Career advice

Safeguarding lone workers

An alarm device hidden in an ID badge can provide extra security for lone workers.

District nurse Neil Thompson tells a grim story about a nurse who was attacked by a desperate drug user.

Picture credit: Reliance

‘She was by her car and someone slammed the boot lid on her head because they thought she had syringes. She had a head injury and an ambulance was called.’

The story illustrates how nurses working alone need protection, Mr Thompson says. He believes community workers may need portable alarms so they can send an alert if they are in trouble.

Mr Thompson represents the east Midlands on the RCN’s UK safety representatives committee, which has put forward a resolution to RCN congress next week calling for RCN council to ‘take action against organisations failing to provide sufficiently robust lone-working systems to protect community staff’.

‘A lot of organisations are behind on this sort of thing,’ he says.

Unite/Community Practitioners’ and Health Visitors’ Association professional officer Dave Munday argues that: ‘Some organisations are on the ball, but for others it is low down on their priority list.’

Mr Munday says employers should provide at least an analysis of the risks involved for lone workers and conflict resolution training.

Liverpool Community Health NHS Trust has decided that all staff who visit patients alone should have protection devices so they can be tracked or alert their colleagues discreetly if in trouble.

Issued with lone working procedures?

Trained to prevent and manage violence?

Issued with appropriate safety equipment?

Aware of how to report an incident?

Aware that they should never put themselves or colleagues in any danger?

Source: NHS Protect

Interim director of nursing Amanda Pye said: ‘In any circumstances where a member of staff feels vulnerable the device can be activated and an appropriate response made.’

The trust has also introduced a buddy system, whereby lone workers pair up with a colleague who monitors their movements.

In a 2007 RCN survey of almost 1,000 nurses one third said they sometimes felt unsafe working alone, while one third had been assaulted or harassed in the previous two years.

Community nurses can be proactive in reducing risk by asking patients to come to the clinic, says Mr Munday.

The NHS Staff Council states that managers should give lone workers training in conflict resolution and in using technology for protecting themselves. Information about violent individuals must be reported. Managers have a duty to assess the risks of lone worker jobs, the NHS Staff Council states.

Further information

NHS Security: lone working guidance

NHS Staff Council’s guidance for managers

RCN lone worker survey

This article is for subscribers only