Lone workers are not new. People have been working at their place of employment with no one around and without readily available assistance in a wide variety of industries for a long time. What is new is the sheer number of employees working in this situation.
The economic slowdown created by the COVID-19 pandemic forced retail chains, restaurants, hotels, banks, and financial institutions to change their business models, which included cutting back on staff. Banks and healthcare clinics started running branches with a lone employee or with limited staff to extend work hours. And restaurants began relying on employees to make deliveries. While this has allowed restaurants to avoid the use of expensive third-party service providers, it does mean that workers are away from their establishments and interacting, on their own, with the public.
In an effort to reduce the number of people in retail environments, many stores started offering curbside delivery. They also cut back on staffing levels, which has resulted in situations where a single employee is left to manage the third shift or handle store opening or closing at odd hours with no backup or co-workers around.
Of course, for other industries, lone workers have been more common, but the realities of the pandemic have increased risks for them too. Lone workers are playing a critical role in keeping businesses up and running, but this is not without increased risk. It is becoming clear that, as the pandemic continues, businesses need to evaluate options to secure and monitor the safety of their lone workers.
Proactively Protecting Lone Workers
Different industries are developing different approaches to meet the same goal. Recently, hotel chains that are members of the American Hotel and Lodging Association have chosen to proactively implement a safety program for all hotel personnel. The program includes a mandate to provide all staff with safety devices with the objective of preventing or responding quickly to incidents of sexual harassment and assault.
Some jurisdictions are going further. The 2019 Hotel and Casino Employee Safety Act (S.B.75) in Illinois mandates a personal protection device for all employees working alone. And New Jersey, Washington, and California have already enacted similar laws requiring hotels to provide their employees with wearable safety devices.
Banks are also looking for ways to protect employees as they consider the option of having a lone employee open a branch without the presence of an armed guard. In addition, they want to ensure the safety of employees who leave the inner perimeter of a building, such as when servicing remote ATMs.
Developing a Lone Worker Safety Policy
Given that more and more employees are working on their own, it is increasingly clear that organizations in a wide variety of industries should develop lone worker safety policies. Such a policy would clearly communicate the risks presented when an employee works alone, define everyone’s responsibilities, and describe the actions required to minimize those risks.
There are three key factors that determine the risks associated with lone workers. The first is the environment. Here, organizations have to consider the area in which employees perform their jobs. This can include working in high crime jurisdictions or handling dangerous chemicals. Next, organizations have to identify the tasks lone workers do that might put them in harm’s way. Curbside delivery late at night or opening a location early in the morning are just two examples of tasks that can carry high risk. And, finally, organizations have to consider the people who lone workers must interact with. Are they likely to be intoxicated, aggressive, or injured? And how might these conditions increase risk for a lone worker?
Once the risks have been identified, it is important to list an employee’s responsibilities in each situation and describe all required actions. The policy should define the standard operating procedures (SOPs) and cover the training required to help employees develop the understanding and skills needed to do their jobs safely.
SOPs for a lone retail worker could include the following:
- Pay careful attention to physical distancing
- Wear a company-provided safety device
- Make sure the lights are working
- Make sure the cameras are properly focused and have the right line of sight
- Do not take trash out after 5 p.m.
- Do not open the backdoor
This sort of training would ensure that employees understand their roles, the risks they face, and how to manage difficult situations involving aggressive customers, being followed, and known troublemakers. Training could also include material covering conflict resolution and anxiety management, including how to assess a potentially dangerous situation, how to recognize signs of aggression, and how to communicate effectively to defuse conflict.
Most importantly, the policy should include both a synopsis of the security technologies in place to help lone workers as well as a detailed emergency communications plan that all employees must follow should they feel threatened or at risk.
Using Technology to Protect Lone Workers
Choosing the right portable security device is a critical part of any lone worker safety policy, especially since employees will need it to work effectively in an emergency situation. The device should be small, lightweight, and unobtrusive until it is needed. It should require no installation or configuration by the end-user and should also be robust enough that employees will want to use it.
There is a new breed of smart, wearable, and discreet personal protection devices that are designed to address these challenges. They can be worn on a lanyard, belt, vest, jacket, or pants and provide a cost-effective option for retailers and other businesses who want to protect their lone workers.
These personal safety monitoring devices are always on, include a single-push panic button that silently dispatches police, and connect with a live monitoring service in seconds. They can also be directly integrated with interactive, 24/7 command centers. This provides lone workers with access to experienced security professionals and law enforcement at the touch of a button. And, because the devices are cellular-based, there is no limit to how far an employee can be from their place of business. This is a real asset for curbside and home delivery use cases.
All of these features can boost morale and give lone workers the confidence to do their jobs without taking unnecessary risks.
Interface Security Systems, in partnership with RiskBand, recently launched a wearable solution that is directly integrated with the company’s interactive 24/7 central command centers. The solution offers single-push access to two-way voice communications, user profile data, near real-time images, and geolocation data. This means that Interface-trained security professionals can immediately assess a situation, intervene, and deploy the appropriate emergency response. With more camera eyes and ears on the ground, the opportunity to de-escalate a situation increases.
These new services are a critical component for increasing safety measures. In retail and other industries, they help protect lone workers as well as customers. And, as workplaces continue to evolve, it is clear that personal protection devices and lone worker monitoring solutions should be an essential part of any comprehensive business security strategy.