Lone Worker Safety: Threats & Solutions

Lone Worker Safety: Threats & Solutions

Particularly as organizations digitalize, the number of lone workers is on the rise -- and with it, the importance of ensuring lone worker safety. Lone workers are at increased risk for workplace accidents or emergencies, inadequate rest and breaks, and physical violence. Here, we discuss key considerations for lone worker safety in a variety of industries.

Lone Worker Overview

Lone workers are employees that perform job duties alone or without supervision. They exist in every industry and include contractors, self-employed people, and employees who work off-site or outside normal hours.

Examples of lone workers include:

  • Health care workers providing home care or working alone in one wing of a hospital
  • Individuals who work separately from others in factories or warehouses
  • People in one-person work environments, such as kiosks or gas stations
  • Employees that work from home
  • Agricultural workers
  • Service workers who perform jobs alone, such as public utility workers, postal workers, transportation workers, real estate agents, and traveling salespeople

All Industry Threats

Regardless of the industry, there are several threats that all lone workers face, the first being injury. If a lone worker is injured on the job, they do not have a coworker nearby to help them ameliorate the situation or contact help. Depending on the industry, performing tasks alone can also increase the chance of injury.

Lone workers also face an increased risk for assault or violence on the job. This may be from members of the public, intruders, or customers. Violence is particularly common with lone workers who perform client-facing jobs where they operate alone, such as real estate workers, health care workers, and public utility workers. When working alone, workers may be unable to defend themselves against assailants or request help if injured.

A lower-risk, higher-likelihood threat is worker fatigue and inadequate breaks. Depending on the industry, lone workers may have difficulty accessing hygiene and welfare facilities or may take inadequate breaks since they are completing tasks alone.

Organizations with lone workers should consider all of these threats and develop corresponding prevention and response strategies. Now, we will provide more insight on lone worker threats in four specific industries: commercial real estate, health care, hospitality, manufacturing, and utilities. While this list is not comprehensive, it covers key threats in several industries with large numbers of lone workers.

Commercial Real Estate

Lone workers in real estate primarily include real estate agents, property managers, surveyors, and property developers. Since these employees typically work alone at properties, they are primarily at risk for injury, intruders, and violence.

Quick facts:

  • In 2016, nearly 35,000 real estate workers in the U.S. were attacked while working
  • In 2019, the real estate and rental and leasing sector reported 90 work-related fatalities
  • The National Association of Realtors reports that 33% of realtors have feared for their personal safety or personal information while on the job

Health Care

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there are over 18 million health care workers in the United States. Particularly as the health care industry digitalizes and faces staffing reductions, workers face increased lone work. In addition, home health workers typically commute and treat patients alone. Lone health care workers face risks including violent patients, slip and falls, supply and property thefts, and active assailants.

Quick facts:

  • Violence response efforts cost U.S. hospitals and health systems nearly $3 billion a year
  • According to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, 75 percent of all workplace assaults in the U.S. occur in health care and social services
  • Employee turnover is as high as 75% among home healthcare workers

Hospitality

The hospitality industry comprises a large number of lone workers. Lone hospitality workers include front desk staff, housekeepers, night shift managers, facilities and maintenance staff, and more. This puts them at risk for physical, verbal, or sexual abuse from guests or intruders, unaddressed injuries, and threats associated with working late at night, such as intoxicated guests or criminal activity.

Quick facts:

  • According to a survey by UNITE HERE, a labor union that represents hospitality workers, 53% of housekeeping workers have experienced harassment
  • Safety agencies are reporting a significant increase in occupational injuries, safety hazards, and diseases among hospitality employees
  • A July 2016 survey by UNITE HERE found that 58% of hotel workers have been sexually harassed by a guest

Manufacturing

The manufacturing sector in the United States employs over ten million workers in the United States. Many manufacturing workers spend time working alone and may be using specialized equipment, heavy machinery, or chemicals. As a result, risk of injury is high.

Quick facts:

  • The U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics indicate that manufacturing is the third-most dangerous occupation with regards to job-related injuries and illnesses
  • In 2019, the manufacturing industry had 395,300 workplace injuries
    Manufacturing has one of the highest workplace injury rates in the US, requiring nearly 50k hospital visits per year
  • An estimated 13,455,000 workers in manufacturing industries are at risk for fatal and nonfatal injuries

Utilities

Utilities regularly commute to and work alone on worksites, empty properties, and at customer homes. At times, this work can occur at sites with high risk of injury, such as on high power lines. Common risks for lone utility workers include electrical current exposure, structural collapse in confined spaces, injuries due to animals, and harassment from customers or the public during home visits or fieldwork.

Quick facts:

  • Utilities workers are 54% more likely than those in other industries to have daily worries about getting injured because of their job
  • In a recent survey, 27% of utilities workers named fall hazards as one of their top two safety concerns
  • In 2013, 30% of utilities fatalities occurred on the roadway and 13% due to being struck by an object or equipment

Solutions

There are several tactics that organizations can employ to mitigate lone worker risk. The first is by identifying lone worker hazards and assessing each risk. Employees should be made aware of these risks and educated on best practices for prevention and response. 

It’s also valuable to have a lone worker policy. This policy can information about the risks facing lone workers and details the roles of the employers and employees in ensuring safety. This information should also be shared during employee training.

Effective communication is also key to lone worker safety. Workers should have easy access to employee policies, immediate guidance from supervisors, and emergency assistance. One way to streamline communications is by implementing a risk management platform such as Vector LiveSafe.

The LiveSafe platform offers features such as Broadcast notifications, two-way messaging, and customizable resources. This enables lone workers to easily communicate with superiors, access safety information and policies in times of need, and request immediate assistance if they are in crisis. 

To learn more about how LiveSafe can help your organization protect lone workers, visit our website or request a demo.

ALEXANDRA BRUNJES

Alexandra Brunjes has a B.S. in Neurobiology from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. with minors in Creative Writing and French. She is a published journalist and experienced health and science writer. Her expertise includes risk intelligence, healthcare and neuroscience, and technology.

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