In October 2004, a gamekeeper working on a Borders country estate suffered serious injuries to his pelvis when his quad bike overturned on a slope. Although there was a mobile phone signal in the area, he had not been issued with a phone or other means of communication, and tried to reach a nearby farmhouse for help. A search wasn’t initiated until he was first missed 52 hours after the accident. Searchers found his body 200 yards from the scene of the accident in another field. The injured gamekeeper did not die immediately and if he had a means of communication then he would have had an opportunity to summon help.
His employers were found guilty of a health and safety breach, having failed to provide a means of communication for the gamekeeper, or carry out a risk assessment for a Lone Worker to report in at the end of a shift.
Clearly this is an extreme and very sad case. I cannot imagine what it would have been like for that poor man to lie in that field for over two days with no-one coming to help.
An ever increasing number of people work alone. However not all lone workers work in remote places as you might expect, like farmers, forestry workers, researchers. Some will be close by in your very communities, including many working in the middle of crowded towns and cities. You will probably see many of these people every day. Homeworkers, taxi drivers, estate agents, the people who come to fix your phone, read your meter or deliver a parcel are lone workers too. A photographer covering a bushfire by himself is at risk. So too is a solo surveyor, track inspector or supervisor operating independently. What about all those welfare workers who work with youth, the elderly, the disabled? Who’s looking out for your international business travellers when they land in Bangkok in the middle of a coup? With no one they can rely on close at hand to help them in case of emergency – accident, medical emergency, assault, vehicle breakdown etc. – lone workers face increased levels of risks just through working by themselves. Accidents do happen. One housing association customer said to me yesterday “I’ve certainly had my fair share of hairy moments”.
Employers should frequently be asking themselves:
- Do I really know where my Lone Workers are?
- Do I know that they’re ok?
- Does my worker have an effective means of communication in case something happens?
- Have I carried out a proper assessment of the risks to the health & safety of my employees recently?
Different risks call for different mitigations. A complete ban on lone working is appropriate for some employers, at certain times and in certain places. Of course this may not be economically viable for some organizations, and may be an overreaction to the real risks involved. Personal security systems, radios, GPS vehicle trackers, distress beacons and satellite devices all have their place, especially where risk of physical assault is high or network coverage is poor or non-existent. Advancements in cell/mobile phone technologies, improving network coverage & GPS now enable lone workers to benefit from easy to operate, reliable and cost-effective smartphone solutions, automatically triggering alerts so help can find them quickly when they’re in trouble. Many of us won’t leave home without our phone now, so it makes sense to have personal protection built into the device you carry around all the time.
If the gamekeeper on the Borders estate had had any kind of protection at all, or someone to look out for him in case of emergency, he would not have died alone that day in 2004.
How do you know where your lone workers are, and that they’re ok?