How to Update your Lone Worker Policy for Home Workers

Your Lone Worker policy is designed to keep individuals who work alone or in small groups safe. While we often think of lone workers as performing risky jobs or interacting with an unpredictable public, home workers are also included in this category. In the context of the COVID pandemic, with more employees working from home than ever, we thought it was a good moment to take a look at how you can update your Lone Worker policy to reflect recent changes.

  1. What factors to consider when updating your Lone Worker policy?

When it comes to establishing and updating a Lone Worker policy, one of the most valuable resources is the UK’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE). As the government body responsible for regulating and enforcing safe work practices, it regularly updates its guidelines and best practices, ensuring you stay ahead of the game. In recent advice concerning home workers, HSE suggested organisations consider the following factors when drafting or updating a Lone Worker policy:

  • How will you maintain contact with home workers?
  • What activities and tasks will home workers be performing?
  • How long will these activities take?
  • Can these tasks be performed safely and are there any associated risks?
  • Do you need to introduce protective measures?

There are some key things to take away from this brief list. First, regular contact is essential. It prevents employees from becoming isolated and can help tackle the stress and anxiety often associated with working alone. It also maximises the chances of leadership figures picking up on problems sooner rather than later. As a general rule of thumb, the greater the risks involved in an individual’s work, the more often you should check-in.

Traditional workplace risks aren’t too much of a problem for those home workers who are desk-bound. However, employees using a screen for long periods of the day face other issues. These include screen fatigue, poor posture and working with unsuitable equipment. To counter these challenges, employers can provide additional training, ensure employees take regular breaks from their screen, get some physical exercise, and loan staff equipment that makes their job easier and more comfortable.

  1. Emotional wellbeing is just as important

When drawing up Lone Worker policies, employers occasionally only consider the physical risks to lone workers. This ignores a significant aspect of lone worker safety – emotional and psychological wellbeing. While many staff members are content to work in isolation, others find it remarkably difficult. A lot of people thrive in the social environment of the workplace and struggle on their own. It’s surprising how much support and assistance colleagues give one another on a day-to-day basis when in the office. At home, that support network is drastically stripped back.

Updating your Lone Worker policy should include the addition of procedures for both checking-in on home workers and identifying and recognising stress or anxiety as early as possible. When thinking about the latter, you may want to incorporate the following ideas:

  • Stress often manifests itself in changes to usual behaviour. This may be an employee taking more time off, becoming withdrawn or making fewer contributions
  • Employees may also become more confrontational, nervous or lacking in confidence. Employee motivation and drive can also suffer
  • Stress can affect entire teams. In such instances, the number of arguments, grievances and incidents often increase
  • To tackle stress in the workplace, employers should look for quantitative metrics to measure its impact. Factors like absences, productivity, staff turnover and performance appraisals can all be used to measure stress indirectly
  • Employers also need to talk to employees to identify what’s wrong. This can take the form of organisation-wide surveys and one-to-one meetings
  • Once causes of stress have been identified, measures need to be taken to address them. Again, employees themselves can be an excellent source of solutions
  • The framework that facilitates these processes must be included in your Lone Worker policy. This allows employees to access it whenever necessary

  1. Setting clear boundaries

Many organisations struggle to ensure the health and safety of their employees because their guidelines are simply not clear or well-defined enough.

This results in grey areas that employees find difficult to navigate. If there’s no clear course of action (especially one that’s been introduced, supported and promoted by the leadership itself), individuals are much less likely to raise their concerns. To prevent this from happening, you must use your Lone Worker policy to set clear boundaries. For instance:

  • Tell home workers when they must take a break (eg. every two hours) and ensure that they do so
  • Agree stopping rules so that employees have a clear understanding of the line that demarcates safe work from unsafe work
  • Communicate your support for employees who take action when they believe work has become unsafe. As long as their concerns were reasonable, stopping work for safety reasons should never be viewed negatively
  • Make sure your expectations are clearly stated, too. Can employees work according to a flexible structure? How often do they need to check-in?

  1. What can you do as an employer?

As an employer, there are four additional steps you can take to ensure your Lone Worker policy is up to scratch.

  1. Educate yourself – A considerable number of employers already understand the importance of Lone Worker policies. However, educating yourself as to the difficulties lone workers face can motivate you to provide greater protections and also help you identify problem areas. For instance, did you know that 64% of employees reported loss of sleep (Brit Safe) due to anxiety in 2020? Or that two months into the lockdown, Refuge, a domestic abuse helpline, recorded a 950% increase in visitors to its website? (Refuge) Staying aware of current difficulties helps you better protect your workers
  2. Provide “escalation” guidelines – Your Lone Worker policy should contain detailed information as to how employees can escalate concerns, as well as when they should escalate. This means making contact information accessible and outlining the hierarchy through which the issue is escalated. If employees don’t know who to turn to, they won’t turn to anyone
  3. Make your policy accessible – Employees need to know where your Lone Worker policy is and how to access it
  4. Involve lone workers – Finally, all employers should involve lone workers in the process of creating and drafting the organisation’s policy. This is particularly important when it comes to home workers, as they’re usually that little bit more isolated. Survey your employees, talk to them personally and ask for their input and feedback. They’re likely to provide you with insights you would never benefit from otherwise

  1. Consider technological solutions

Technology has a significant impact on how you plan to keep your lone workers safe. As a result, it’s often a good idea to integrate technology into your Lone Worker policy.

For instance, our Shield Mobile for Lone Workers allows employees to schedule check-in calls, open and close visits and make emergency calls. These features will affect how often you require lone workers to check-in and what processes employees need to go through to guarantee their safety. Your Lone Worker policy must reflect that.

As well as safeguarding lone workers while they’re out on the job, our technological solutions also reassure employees. This can help increase the sense of safety and security, both of which contribute to a more positive outlook and improved personal well being.

What Next?

Your Lone Worker policy should be a dynamic document that evolves and grows alongside your organisation. It needs to reflect changes in circumstances, such as increased home working due to COVID, and meet the needs of your employees. If we were to break down our advice into three key takeaways, we’d argue that you need to:

  1. Offer clear, concise and well-defined advice
  2. Make sure your Lone Worker policy is accessible
  3. Involve employees in the drafting of your policy

If you’d like more information about the way Inform Lone Worker solutions can help your staff stay safe, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. Call us on 01344 595800 or drop us a line to find out more.