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Protecting your staff from abuse and violence

publication date: Apr 18, 2008
author/source: Craig Swallow, Managing Director of Connexion2
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Insurance companies are aware that businesses that properly manage health and safety are likely to make fewer claims against their ELCI insurance. 

Spurred on by discussions with the Health & Safety Executive, many insurers are now actively encouraging and in some cases even requesting companies to tighten up on their health and safety policy especially if they employ lone workers.

Working alone is becoming increasingly common as more firms introduce home working and more and more employees are required to be out of the office to carry out day-to-day duties. Lone workers and home workers enjoy equal cover against employer negligence as those working in the employer’s workplace. 

People can be required to work on their own in all sorts of industries, but just because an employee is working from home or at a site on their own it doesn’t mean they should be less protected than other staff. In fact, the lone worker probably needs even more protection than other staff because of the unique health and safety problems posed by the isolated individual. 

New research shows that 1.3 million people are attacked in the UK every year at work and assaults are increasing by 5% every two years. The rise in workplace violence now costs UK industry hundreds of millions of pounds in compensation and the loss of more than 3 million working days each year. 

In April 2008, the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act will come into force. 

It has added yet another layer of liability for organisations and, importantly, those who run them. An employer’s duty of care is not only a legal requirement but now it must be seen to be demonstrated that a company or organisation is doing everything practicable to protect the health and safety of employees. 

Because of the increasing focus on health & safety, many of the insurance companies that provide ECLI insurance are asking companies to equip their lone workers with specialist devices. As well as requesting companies to carry out detailed risk assessments they are stating that lone workers must have a dedicated device to respond easily and quickly to emergencies. 

Almost any role can involve an element of lone working but some jobs mean that certain employees will be regularly working on their own. Almost all estate agents make their visits alone, whether for valuations, inventories, new build sites or any other business. 

Since the Suzy Lamplugh case most agencies are aware of the need for some sort of alarm systems but how many actually implement policies and procedures. Utility and forestry workers, service personnel and those in the construction industry have particular lone worker considerations. In such cases, the lone worker is not only vulnerable to abuse and attack but also to an industrial accident. Devices such as the Identicom I770, with man-down detection, addresses both types of risk and provides employers with a means of reducing their exposure to the costs of insurance and litigation resulting from the new legislation. 

The Identicom I770 uses state-ofthe- art signal processing technology to analyse tilt, immobility and any sudden impacts, in combination with non-response timed alerts. This in addition to a rip alarm and discreetly operable manual call button helps detect an employee in difficulty, and raise an alarm across the GSM phone network, whilst minimising false alarms. 

Employees engaged in giving a service, i.e. in education, the caring professions, carrying out cash transactions, delivering and collecting or who are controlling or representing authority are also vulnerable to abuse and attack. Workers in these professions feature prevalently within statistics on workplace violence. In such professions employees all too often believe that giving their lone workers a mobile phone will help safeguard them from abuse. 

However, should a lone worker find themselves in a dangerous situation and attempt to use a mobile phone to summon help, they may find the aggressor becoming even more agitated which could exacerbate the situation and lead to violence or aggression. Using a mobile phone in such a situation is often futile as it can be easily and quickly knocked to the ground. Likewise using a personal shriek alarm could also worsen a situation. As it may be some time before help arrives; a difficult situation in that time could turn violent. 

Many insurance companies are specifying that companies protect their workers with safety devices that meet ACPO guidelines. ACPO has stated that no single action ‘single push’ PA devices should be allowed. Instead they now say that portable PA devices should be dedicated and provide a method of dual verification. 

The requirement is to stop single button type PA’s push systems that can be accidentally activated by people ‘bumping’ against the PA. 

Products like Identicom conform to police policy. For example, Identicom is equipped with a discreet emergency button that activates the alarm, which opens up a voice call to a third party whilst at the same time surreptitiously notifying the wearer that the alarm has been triggered and is active. 

A second concealed button enables the wearer to notify their employer when they know they are entering a potentially hazardous situation which neatly forms part of a worker’s dynamic risk assessment. 

With the rising number of attacks against lone workers resulting in higher and more frequent compensation demands, insurance companies will increasingly insist on lone workers being adequately equipped. This, together with growing legislation means that companies and organisations need to review their health and safety procedures and in particular reassess their lone worker protection strategy.