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Keeping staff safe when lone working

Yesterday marked 30 years since estate agent Suzy Lamplugh disappeared after leaving her office to meet an unknown client. So what can employers do to keep staff safe at external meetings?

Suzy Lamplugh Trust was set up 30 years ago by the parents of Suzy Lamplugh, a young estate agent who disappeared while showing a client around a house in London. Despite huge media coverage and police activity, Suzy was never found. Suzy’s parents Paul and Diana set up the trust in her name to campaign for safer workplaces free of violence and aggression.

Today many employees are required to conduct work outside of the workplace and outside of usual working hours. Creating an accessible and user-friendly lone working policy, that identifies the risks of working alone and the procedures in place to minimise these risks, can help to boost staff confidence. When developing a lone worker policy we encourage employers to assess risk in respect to each job role and to know what to do if there is an emergency. Ask yourself:

  • Is it essential that the staff member goes to the meeting alone?
  • Would you and your colleagues know where to start looking if a staff member didn’t arrive back to the office when you were expecting them?
  • Does everyone in the office know what to do in the event of a staff member going missing?
  • Do your staff members have a simple way to raise the alarm if they experience aggression or need assistance?
  • Would family or friends of your staff members know who to contact at the office if a loved one didn’t return home from a meeting at the expected time?

To get you started, here are some practical ideas for keeping staff safe while working alone. These are particularly important for employees often required to attend external meetings:

Know where they are

It may seem simple enough, but e-calendars, buddy systems and safety devices can all be used as tracing systems. E-calendars can be used to track meetings/visits for the day, but must be updated if plans change. Buddy systems can be set up where staff must check in and out via text/call to a colleague, both when they arrive and leave an external meeting. There are also many lone worker devices available. These link directly to security centres who can escalate to police if an alert is activated, either through a phone or safety device.

Emergency contact details

Make sure that staff emergency contact details are up-to-date and relevant. Consider who has access to them and at what time. For example, if the HR team are the only ones with access to this information and this department is only open between 9am and 5pm on weekdays, would anyone be able to find those contact details out of hours should an emergency happen?

Covert key words

This allows a staff member to contact the office covertly in case of an emergency while face-to-face with a client. If they need assistance, they may be able to make an excuse to call the office, but may not be able to contact the police. If the call taker in the office hears the key word, they can action an emergency procedure. The word/phrase should not be too obscure as it could alert the aggressor to the fact an alarm is being raised. For example, it is much easier to insert the phrase ‘red file’ into a professional conversation than ‘jam sandwich.’

Kristiana Wrixon is policy and development manager at Suzy Lamplugh Trust