National Personal Safety Day: Lone workers out of sight but not out of mind

Kim Sunley

In this blog Kim Sunley, national officer at the Royal College of Nursing makes a personal plea to employers and lone workers to stay safe while doing the job.

It’s over 30 years since Suzy Lamplugh, a 25 year old estate agent went missing during the course of her work. Suzy was working alone and despite numerous attempts to find her, she was presumed murdered and was legally declared dead in 1993. 

Like estate agents, many health care workers work alone in the community or other environments.  Visiting unknown clients in unfamiliar environments or revisiting those with a known history of violence, or as is sometimes the case, a relative or friend who has displayed threatening behaviour in the past. Even getting to a client can be a potential risk e.g. crossing a dark car park in the evening to get to a client’s flat.

Risk assessment is key to identifying potential issues and measures needed to reduce the risk. In some cases seeing the patient at a base where there are other staff around may be the safest option, but for the many scenarios, training and an effective means of raising the alarm will be adequate. Note the word effective. When Suzy went missing mobile phone technology was still in its infancy and not widely used. Technology has moved on leaps and bounds over 30 years and most of the UK working population have a personal or a work mobile phone. Yes, you can use a mobile phone to dial for help, but it isn’t the most effective means of raising the alarm. Specialist lone worker systems have been developed for those working alone, from phone apps to SIM cards embedded in identity badges they provide a more effective way of discreetly raising the alarm and getting help. 

Sadly, after a big push around ten years ago to raise the profile of this issue in the NHS, I’m aware that lone worker safety is a casualty of cost savings in the healthcare sector, with some organisations getting rid of or downgrading lone worker systems or stopping training. Whilst I understand the need to make savings it’s very short sighted and irresponsible not to keep lone workers safe.  In terms of staff morale, costs of an incident, corporate reputation and in the worst-case scenario a corporate manslaughter case, it’s essential that lone workers are fully protected.

So, my call to employers is invest in lone worker safety. Identify your lone workers, carry out risk assessments and provide training and effective equipment to allow them to do their job safety.

My call to lone workers is find out about lone worker risk assessment and policies in your work place. The risk assessment should identify training needs and ensure you have an effective means of raising the alarm should you get into difficulties. If you haven’t had training or don’t have an alarm, again speak to your manager or safety rep. Finally, if you have a lone worker alarm, treasure it, use it and keep it charged. You never know when you might need it.

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