Standards are vital when sourcing lone-worker protection

Will Murray of Skyguard highlights the risks, both physical and legal, of failing to protect staff who work alone and the importance of adopting the BS8484 standard for lone-worker protection

Will Murray, Skyguard

Will Murray, Skyguard

A lone worker can be defined as an employee who performs an activity that is carried out in isolation from other workers, without close or direct supervision. With such a broad definition, there are varying estimates of the number of lone workers in the UK, but it is generally accepted that at least six million people work either alone, or on their own for parts of their working day.

Often these individuals are working in hazardous environments or circumstances which place them at risk of violence, accidents, or illness – the fact they are working alone puts them at even greater risk should the worst happen.

What does this mean for an employer?

Organisations have a legal and moral Duty of Care to protect their staff from unnecessary risks, and there are several pieces of health and safety legislation which apply to all organisations:

  • The Health & Safety at Work Act 1974
  • The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999
  • The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007
  • The Health and Safety Offences Act 2008

Additionally, there are numerous laws and regulations which apply to specific industries, workplace environments and job activities.

If an employee suffers harm as a consequence of doing their job and it can be proved that the systems used for protecting staff were inadequate, then the legal implications can be severe. The Health and Safety Executive estimates it can cost an organisation in excess of £20,000 just to investigate a physical assault.

In the case of a fatality, the court will take into consideration the resources available to an organisation when issuing fines, generally a percentage of company turnover with no maximum limit. This is in addition to paying both sides’ legal costs, which in itself is likely to be substantial.

There is also the possibility of remedial and publicity orders. The former will have a calculable cost, whilst the latter can have an indirect cost by tarnishing an organisation’s reputation, thereby reducing its future revenue. It’s probable that the victim’s family would file for compensation in the civil courts too, although the insurance company would normally cover this.

In cases where an individual such as a director or senior manager is found to be grossly negligent, then a custodial sentence can be imposed up to a maximum sentence of life in prison. However, this is at the judge’s discretion, with a one or two-year sentence being more typical.

There are numerous other incalculable costs to the organisation should litigation ensue such as the adverse effect on staff morale, management’s time in preparing a defence, and the damage to an organisation’s brand in the eyes of its stakeholders.

Despite the government’s recent campaign to reduce health and safety ‘red-tape’, enforcement of legislation has actually increased. In 2012 corporate manslaughter cases rose by 40% over the previous year and the number of cases in the pipeline continues to rise.

How can lone workers be protected?

There’s clearly a need for organisations to implement robust systems to protect their employees from harm and defend themselves from the consequences of damaging litigation.

Firstly, you should conduct a thorough risk assessment to identify the hazards your staff may face, the magnitude of loss and probability of them occurring. This will allow you to identify what needs be done to mitigate those risks.

As a minimum, lone workers should have a means to call for help in an emergency, either via a company-issued mobile phone or a dedicated personal safety device. Organisations should have a lone-working policy and workers should be trained on what procedures to follow and how to use to use the equipment they’ve been issued with.

A credible lone worker protection supplier should provide its clients with a device or mobile phone app that’s fit for purpose, connects to a 24/7 alarm receiving centre, and has a means for storing the individual’s personal information, such as known medical conditions.

These components should work together seamlessly, enabling the provider to manage the emergency and send effective help to the individual quickly. However, many providers in the industry are offering products and services which strip-out certain key elements, often at a lower price but to the detriment of the end user’s safety.

As an example, there are smartphone apps which allow the user to raise an alarm to a colleague at the press of a button. But what happens if the colleague does not answer?

And even if they do answer, will they be in position to provide immediate and effective help? What happens if the handset loses its signal before, or during the alarm being raised?

These are just a few examples of issues to consider – there are many more!

Fortunately, there’s a group of industry experts who have considered all the issues and made efforts to simplify the decision-making process. The British Security Industry Association’s Lone Worker Section has written a British Standard for the industry – BS 8484 (Code of Practice for the provision of Lone Worker Services) – to provide organisations with a quality benchmark when sourcing a lone worker protection solution.

Comprising of leading manufacturers, ARCs and service providers, the BSIA group worked with the Association of Chief Police Officers and the British Standards Institute to publish the first version of the standard in 2009.

A crucial proviso was that the standard allowed certified providers to summon a guaranteed police response to an alarm, via Unique Reference Numbers (URNs) issued by each UK police force. This enables the provider to bypass the 999 system and liaise directly with the relevant local police control room, saving precious minutes in despatching the responder.

Providers who are not audited and certified by one of the two certification bodies, NSI and SSAIB, are reliant on dialling 999 in an emergency and cannot guarantee a timely police response.

Revised in 2011, the standard encompasses the following key service elements:

  • the company, its stability, insurance, premises, staff, data security and financial backing
  • the lone worker device, its features and fitness for purpose
  • the alarm receiving centre, and its capability to monitor lone working alarms

To meet the standard a provider must have invested time, money and expertise to ensure that its processes, systems, and infrastructure meet the stringent criteria. If any elements are subcontracted, then the third-party company must also have certification to the relevant parts of the standard. The standard gives prospective clients confidence that the service they are sourcing to protect their staff – in potentially life-threating circumstances – is up to the job.

Unfortunately, some unscrupulous providers have seized upon the success of the standard by promoting their products with words such as “BS 8484 compliant”, without undergoing an audit from the inspection bodies. At best, this practice is misleading, at worst this could have grave consequences for the end-user relying on the product in an emergency. Buyers should therefore ask to see a provider’s BS 8484 certificate and check it is still valid on the issuing body’s website, before purchasing.

Of course, some organisations may decide that a non-certified solution is sufficient for their particular needs. That may be the case, but it should be an informed decision based on an understanding of the risks and implications. There are resources freely available online which can help buyers’ understanding and demystify the market.

In addition to developing industry standards, the BSIA Lone Worker Section aims to raise awareness and education on lone worker security. The group is working with numerous industry stakeholders such as ACPO, The Suzy Lamplugh Trust, NHS Protect and IOSH, to share expertise and promote best practice. One of the ways they have achieved this is by producing a number of guidance documents which can be downloaded for free at the following address:.

Whilst Lone Worker Protection is an evolving and complex industry, that’s not an excuse for organisations to have inadequate systems in place – the fate of your staff and your reputation could depend on it.

Will Murray is a Committee member of the BSIA’s Lone Worker Section and Marketing Director at Skyguard, a leading provider of lone worker protection solutions in Europe.


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