Workplace personal safety is an organisational responsibility

Looking after lone workers in an organisation is an often overlooked area of personal safety provision, says Bella Stephens-Ikpasaja

Workplace personal safety is an organisational responsibility

Across industry sectors, HR and organisational development teams work hard to reflect the broad spectrum of their employee wellbeing needs. The start of a New Year is a particularly busy time when plans are put into action and rolled out, which help employees to feel valued at work and be at their productive best.

Everyone has a right to a safe working environment, which includes the rights for workers to have any risk to their health and safety controlled, to be provided with personal protective and safety equipment free of charge and to leave the work area if there are reasonable concerns about safety.

An essential part of personal safety provision that is often overlooked is lone working. Working alone is a standard practise of most organisations, however without the appropriate risk mitigation, lone-working can leave employees at risk of violence and aggression. 

We at the Suzy Lamplugh Trust define lone workers as “people that work alone for some, or all the time without direct or close supervision or support”. Examples include working alone in a retail setting, in the community, conducting home visits, working on a site, isolated in an office or a laboratory.

In such scenarios, the employee is physically isolated, and potentially without access to immediate assistance should their personal safety be at risk.

For our latest industry-led survey (autumn/winter 2018), as part of our Stay Safe At Work campaign, we conducted research to learn more about personal safety in the retail sector. Our finding shows that 66 per cent of over 1,000 respondents ”had experienced violence or aggression in the workplace”.

Respondents reported being subjected to verbal abuse (83 per cent), persistent verbal harassment (39 per cent), bullying (37 per cent), physical violence (16 per cent), sexual harassment or unwanted attention (14 per cent) and stalking (5.9 per cent).

While workplace personal safety risks are not specific to any gender, our research found the most prevalent reasons people are targeted for abuse are for specific personal characteristics – the highest of these, as perceived by our survey respondents, being gender. Of the characteristics cited, more than a quarter (29 per cent) mentioned gender – 92 per cent of whom were women – and nearly one in 10 (9.1 per cent) mentioned race. Nationality (8.1 per cent) and sexual orientation (6.7 per cent) were also mentioned.

To achieve consistent and effective safety measures in the workplace, each worker must work with their manager to identify, assess and reduce or manage the risk of violence and aggression. For personal safety in the workplace to become common practice, it needs to be prioritised across the organisation and championed by strong leadership.

Companies looking to begin the process of embedding a workplace personal safety culture should start by raising awareness of the issue by provide lone-worker training to managers and employees to help them prepare and respond to risks.

Organisations should also look to create or update their lone-working policy to include risk assessment, conflict management, incident reporting and related themes, and nominate a personal safety champion and upskill them via with the appropriate personal safety training courses.

Bella Stephens-Ikpasaja is interim commercial manager for training and consultancy services at the Suzy Lamplugh Trust