Last week it was reported that over 6,000 people have signed a petition calling for convenience store chain, Co-op, to stop lone working shifts.

The report found that 95 percent of Co-op staff feel that the company does not keep them safe during lone working shifts and also found that 38 percent of staff have had an armed robbery in their store.

These frightening statistics raise questions on whether lone working is actually legal and if so how can businesses reduce the risks of workers working alone?

The Office of National Statistics estimates there are nearly 6 million lone workers in the UK today so in simple terms it is not illegal for employees to work alone however, hazards and risks to the lone worker must be managed so their health and safety isn’t in anyway hindered.

Those hazards and risks must be assessed so that they are controlled to an acceptable level. In some cases, an assessment may find that lone working is too dangerous.

In many cases, the risks that lone workers are exposed to are not significantly different to those of other workers. In some situations, though, they may be at greater risk because of the nature and location of their work due to:

  • The risk of violent attack whilst opening or closing a shop where the attacker is intent on theft.
  • The risk of attempted robbery in small retail premises when just one member of staff is at work.
  • The inability to summon assistance in the event of sudden illness or an accident.
  • Unfamiliarity with the particular risks at a remote worksite.
  • Lack of help or advice in the event of the unexpected.

Despite these risks to employees, employers can reduce the risks faced by their lone working employees by adopting some of the below measures:

  • Adopting security measures, such as panic alarms, clearly visible CCTV systems.
  • Specific training and instruction for lone workers; how to recognise early indications of threatening or violent behaviour, ways to defuse the situation and avoid personal risk.
  • A system for identifying and flagging up clients or customers who could become difficult and particularly those who have caused problems at previous contacts.
  • Arrangements or procedures for dealing with known troublesome contacts.
  • Stab proof vests and other personal protection, where appropriate.

To summarise, businesses should make any necessary assessments and changes before an incident occurs for the sake of their business and crucially, their employees.

Russell Corlett, Health & Safety Director, Peninsula

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