Lone worker Special: Field studies
With more people working alone than ever, training has to keep pace if staff are to manage new and more complex risk.
In the mid-1990s, training courses for lone workers were pretty basic. Most offered simple advice on how to stay safe when travelling, what to do if the car broke down and how to navigate the streets safely. It was excellent advice but only applied to limited activities and risks.
Fast forward two decades, and training has had to develop to keep pace with trends in the way people work, the risks they face and the way they prefer to learn.
Data from the Office for National Statistics suggest that up to 25% of the UK workforce undertake some form of lone working. In many organisations, significant budget cuts and resource pressures have resulted in fewer frontline workers. Of those who remain, a greater proportion now work alone in some capacity. Aside from frontline staff, remote and home working has become more common and many workers have little face-to-face contact with their colleagues or managers. Organisations are also investing less time and fewer resources in safety training.
Workers are happier to engage in a full day’s training when they don’t have to travel for hours to attend
The link between lone working and elevated risk of violence and aggression is well known (bit.ly/2JWWAJx). Police figures show that violent crime is on the rise and this is reflected in sectors where staff regularly meet or provide a service to the public. In the rail sector, for example, the British Transport Police has reported an increase in assaults against staff across the network and has expressed concern about the increase in severity of aggressive incidents.
As well as long-established OSH risks and those associated with workplace aggression, organisations are increasingly grappling with stress and wellbeing-related issues.
For lone and remote workers this may be linked to the isolation experienced in the role and the growing demands of the job (see Lone worker special: Lone but not alone, IOSH Magazine, September 2018).
For some, work travel has increased significantly, in the UK, abroad or both. Travel to unfamiliar destinations has become the norm for some workers, who understandably will feel vulnerable when they lack local knowledge or have poor cultural awareness.
But it is not just the risk profile that has changed. Workers’ expectations about training have risen significantly since the 1990s. In response to developments in technology, which have created a wealth of internet resources such as YouTube tutorials, employees expect short, impactful messages delivered in an engaging way.
In the mix
If there is no such thing as a typical lone worker, there is also no such thing as a typical lone worker course. Increasingly, organisations will need to match the training to the nature of the work, the risk profile and the skills, experience and attitude of that worker.
As well as the job-specific technical skills, a training matrix can comprise topics that include:
- dynamic risk assessment – to assess potential risk and take control of their own safety
- personal safety and security – crime awareness and avoidance
- safer travel – including driving techniques and safety strategies for other modes of transport
- travelling abroad – including cultural awareness and practical country-specific advice
- stress management – to improve personal resilience
- bullying and harassment – awareness, techniques to manage incidents and gain support
- visiting other people’s homes – covering personal safety, safeguarding, protection from accusations
- staying in touch – the importance and benefits of communications protocols and use of lone worker systems
- conflict management – techniques to defuse conflict and potential aggression
- self-protection and physical intervention – principles to keep workers safe in aggressive incidents.
Sometimes organisations can find it difficult to encourage lone and remote workers to be enthusiastic about training. Workers may feel that they are fine doing it “their way” and can resent the time taken out of their already busy schedule. Organisations need to ensure that they consider any potential resistance when developing a learning programme and find a way to answer the “what’s in it for me?” question.
On the other hand, lone workers may be calling out for support and guidance and be ready to actively engage. Organisations need to be sure they know which it is. Training without engagement is like throwing money down the drain and will have no impact on safety.
It can be challenging to bring together lone workers for group training. Some remote workers may value the opportunity to visit the office and reconnect with their teams.
If you have a wide geographical spread of remote workers, taking the training “on tour” to the areas in which the staff are based may be an option. Workers appreciate the effort and are happier to engage in a full day’s training when they don’t have to travel for hours to attend. Local events can also foster good relationships within teams of lone workers.
Allowing groups of remote workers to take charge of their own training, choosing from a predetermined set of workshops and managing their own learning programme is a useful strategy.
Remember that traditional group-based training may not suit all staff, their geographical spread, contact hours or the ways in which they work. It is vital that businesses match the style of training to both the desired outcome and the audience. If you need to communicate basic information and require an assurance that workers have read and understood the material, e-learning is fine.
Webinars can work well for remote workers, offering a better level of interaction from a distance.
One organisation that Worthwhile Training works with has found a way to integrate computer-based training, competition and social activity. It has taken e-learning to the next level and made use of gaming technology as a learning tool (see Play to Win feature, IOSH Magazine, August 2018).
If you are looking to change attitudes and behaviour, interactive and experiential learning is more effective. Conflict management skills training, for example, is something that needs engagement through workshops where people can discuss and test the theories for themselves.
To ensure that an organisation and its lone workers gain the greatest benefit from training, it may seem that there is a lot of work to be done before the individuals step into a training room or open a software package.
But an understanding of your lone workers’ concerns and wishes, an assessment of the risks they face and mapping the skills they need is time well spent.
One final point to remember; remember that this process must to be repeated. Don’t expect to provide a training course – expect to provide a course of training.