Under the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974, UK employers are required to “to prepare… a written statement of general policy with respect to the health and safety at work of employees”. Working practices must be safe and not present a risk to the physical safety of employees.
This also applies to those who work alone for all or some of the time. As well as the employer’s responsibility for his staff’s safety, some of the onus falls on the individual to make sure they adopt safe working practices and observe the systems that are in place.
Frontline staff can be at risk, especially those handling cash in shops or manning petrol station payment windows overnight. Those with physical jobs can also be in danger should they have an accident. Typical lone worker occupations include:
- petrol station attendants
- shop assistants
- domestic cleaners
- home care workers
- market researchers
- domestic appliance repair technicians
- farm labourers
- telecommunications technicians
- district nurses
If you work alone, make sure that:
- you have a fully charged mobile telephone or other means of communication and a first point of contact to call if there is an emergency
- there is an emergency alarm system in place which allows you to call for assistance if you need to
- the emergency alarm system is regularly tested and that people understand how to respond in the event that the alarm is activated
- cash or other valuables are kept out of plain view.
It is becoming increasingly popular in many different industries for staff to work from home and this can create personal safety problems. There are a number of precautions you can take to keep yourself safe.
- Make sure you have a contact (either your employer or another staff member) who is aware of your appointments and plans for each working day. Set up a checking-in system and notify your contact of your movements, especially if you are meeting clients in your home.
- Arrange a pre-determined code word that you will use if you are not comfortable during a meeting with a client and want to call for help.
- If you routinely see clients in your home, set aside a special room or area in which to meet them.
- Always have an escape strategy planned in case you feel threatened.
Depending on the nature of your work, you may be required to call on clients at their own homes and this could place you in a position of risk. Jobs involving doorstep selling or carrying out market research often require you to enter a stranger’s house, possibly putting yourself in a risky situation.
- Never deviate from the predetermined call list you have been given. If you decide to go ‘off piste’, you will be putting yourself at considerable risk as your colleagues and employer will have no way of knowing where you are should there be an emergency.
- When you arrive at a client’s house, carry out a doorstep risk assessment. Trust your gut feelings; if you feel uncomfortable or uncertain; do not proceed with the appointment, make an excuse and leave.
- Always be aware that you are entering someone else’s domain and, depending on the purpose of your visit, your presence could be unwanted or even perceived as a threat. Never come across to the client as aggressive and be very aware of their personal space. In circumstances where things could become heated, always make sure you have a clear route of exit.
- As you enter the house, note how the door opens and shuts so that if necessary, you can make a quick exit.
- Make sure that there is a tracing system in place back at the office so that your employer and colleagues know exactly where you are going and who you are meeting. Always double check the identity of the person you are meeting for validity, and if there is any doubt, cancel the meeting.
- If you use a vehicle to travel to and from clients’ premises or to meet customers out ‘in the field’, ask your employer to have a tracking device fitted to it.
Working by yourself and on your own initiative can be very rewarding and enjoyable, but lone workers, especially females, are particularly vulnerable to personal safety issues. It’s important that you work closely with your employer to address the concerns outlined above, and that a full risk assessment is carried out if you spend all or part of your time working alone.
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