Too many organisations are not taking lone worker safety seriously
Better safe than sorry
Ensuring my staff are protected when they work alone is not about demonising tenants or ‘ticking a box’ to comply with legislation. Lone workers exist in all industries and professions; social workers, postal workers, estate agents, even hotel cleaners. What really matters to me is knowing we have official systems in place to ensure staff feel as safe as possible while carrying out their duties.
Although the vast majority of our residents are happy and satisfied with the service we provide, unfortunately - as reported in Inside Housing (8 June) - the risk of attack on lone workers, although minimal, is very real. Situations my own staff have found themselves in range from verbal threats of violence to physical attacks - with one housing officer held a knifepoint and another, pregnant colleague locked in a property with heroin users.
At the Safety & Health Exhibition this year in Birmingham, I was amazed to discover many organisations are still not taking the risk to lone workers seriously. Social workers were relying on a flimsy system of phoning or texting each other once they have completed a home visit (often forgetting to do either) and a GP told us she regularly held a night surgery alone with no system in place to protect her from attack, making her feel unsafe and vulnerable.
I feel strongly that while technological solutions are good, to be entirely effective, an integrated system must be adopted by the whole organisation. To this end, we introduced new lone working policy and procedures in 2009, alongside a procedure for managing violence and aggression. A risk assessment was completed by managers for all staff groups and individual assessments were completed with each lone worker. All lone workers were briefed on new policy and where risks were identified staff were given a lone worker system which is monitored through our in-house call centre, Astraline.
This is an easy to use mobile text system where the lone worker sets up a duty giving their location and the expected length of time.
The alarm is raised when the lone worker fails to end or extend the duty. Staff are also able to create an alert if they feel in immediate danger.
The system has been extremely effective, particularly for anti-social behaviour problems, where the perpetrator can be aggressive or demonstrate bizarre behaviour.
I believe, where lone worker safety is concerned it’s time organisations took it seriously. Luck can carry you so far, however, with less than 50 per cent of housing workers feeling completely happy about their safety while working alone, surely there can be no substitute to implementing robust policies and procedures to ensure there are no nasty surprises for your staff around the corner.
Jim Lunney is chief executive of Johnnie Johnson Housing