If you’re a health or social care worker who travels to client’s homes alone, you likely know how intimidating it feels to start work at a new house. You might think to yourself: How will this patient or client respond to me? Who else might be in the home? What will I do if I feel threatened?
Although the healthcare and human service industries provide rewarding careers, they also bring safety and security risks to workers. Health and social care employees such as hospice nurses, direct support professionals and social workers often travel to patient’s homes, sometimes in dangerous areas, to deliver their services. Many times they go to these work sites alone, and depending on their job duties, they may need to spend their entire shift without supervision or the company of a coworker. With no one around to help them in an emergency, how can health and social care workers ensure their safety?
Fortunately, there are many ways lone employees can protect themselves from work-related harm and reach out for help when they need it fast. In this post, we’ll share tips to improve lone worker security for social and health care employees, and we’ll also show you how tracking services make it easy to get assistance in dire situations.
What Is Lone Working in Healthcare and Social Work?
A lone worker is an employee who completes job duties without direct supervision and the help of coworkers. In other words, they do the job alone. Healthcare and social workers are not in complete isolation when they work because they are providing services to patients and clients. They may also work around clients’ family members, but they are still considered lone workers because they are performing job tasks away from their boss and other employees.
Lone health and social care workers face significant risks as part of their job. For example, in a 2014 survey, 21% of registered nurses and nursing students said they were physically assaulted over 12 months. Thousands of violent injury cases were also reported by home health and psychiatric aids in the same year. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), working with the public in itself is a risk factor for workplace assault. Working alone, in high-crime areas and late at night also make the list of risk factors.
Here’s an overview of work-related hazards a lone health or social care worker might face on any given day:
- Violence and aggression: Healthcare and social workers serve the public. They may provide care to individuals who are prone to aggressive behavior, or they might make difficult decisions that affect their clients’ lives. Health and social care workers regularly face the intense emotions of their clients. Some of these emotions might include anger or frustration, which can lead to threats and violent outbursts.
- Patient self-harm: Some patients may be at risk of harming themselves. If a client overdoses on medication, for example, a healthcare worker may not be able to respond to the emergency in time if they are alone. They also have no one with them as a witness and are at risk of being accused of wrongdoing.
- Intruders: Traveling health care and social workers may not have any way of knowing what’s going on at a job site before they arrive. What if an intruder broke into a client’s home? What if an angry family member awaits them? When a worker is alone, they are at a much higher risk of being trapped in a dangerous situation.
- Accidents: Since many lone workers travel a lot between assignments, they regularly face the risk of a car accident. Without a supervisor or coworker waiting to greet them, it could be hours before someone notices they never made it to work.
- Injuries and illness: Just like regular employees, lone workers face injury and illness risks. However, if a lone worker slips and falls at work and is unable to get up, they might not have anyone around to assist them. Similarly, if they suffer a stroke or heart attack on the job, they may not be able to get the help they need. They can’t depend on their patients or clients to alert emergency services, so lone workers need a way to call for help quickly on their own.
Safety Tips for Lone Healthcare and Social Workers
Healthcare and social workers can take steps to protect themselves when they’re on the job alone. Ireland’s Health and Safety Authority provides the following tips to help keep lone workers safe:
- Make sure your point of contact has your schedule and knows how to reach you.
- Keep your car in good condition and the gas tank full and report any issues immediately if you’re using a work vehicle.
- Periodically review information about health and safety risks in your field.
- Familiarize yourself with any communication devices available for use in an emergency, and review related policies.
- Attend training sessions provided by your employer.
- Always be alert to your surroundings.
- Be cautious when entering a client’s home.
- Avoid working late shifts if you’re traveling long distances to prevent fatigue.
- Check if there is anything specific you need to know before traveling to the worksite.
- Wear suitable attire for the job and environment, such as clothing that does not pose an entanglement risk.
- Only carry cash if you need to, leave valuables at home and keep patients’ medication out of view.
How Our Lone Worker Devices Can Help
Entering a stranger’s house alone can feel terrifying, no matter how many years of experience you have. If you’re assigned to a new home in an unfamiliar neighborhood, it’s understandable if you’re nervous — the safety and security risks are real. With Emergency Alert from Towne Tracking Service, you’re never really alone. In fact, you have someone ready to take your call for help 24/7, every day of the year.
Towne Tracking Service is an easy-to-use, intuitive app that gives you access to our live operators through your smartphone screen. Our operators respond individually to your emergency alert on behalf of your employer. They can dispatch emergency services, take messages for your supervisor and get you the help you need fast.
If you’re in a dangerous situation, it may not be possible to make a phone call. That’s why we’ve designed our app to include a “Panic” button, which sends an immediate alert for assistance. The GPS functionality on your phone allows police officers or first responders to find you. As long as the app is running, this button can be pressed at any time, and there’s no need to enter information. Other app features include:
- Timed Sessions: You can turn on GPS tracking at the beginning of your shift or when you start traveling. If you’re unable to finish your day safely, our tracking service will send an alert to the appropriate party.
- Duress PIN: If an attacker forces you to close the app, you can enter a false PIN to make it seem like you’re terminating the application when you’re actually sending a panic alert.
- Discreet Panic: You can trigger a panic alert using the power button on your smartphone. This allows you to request help by reaching into your purse or pocket. It also saves time when you need assistance immediately.
- Man Down: The optional Man Down alert lets your employer know you may need assistance if you don’t move for a long time or have not checked in.
- Audible alerts: At the end of your shift, you’ll receive an alert to tell you your session is about to expire. That way, you don’t send a false alarm for forgetting to end your session.
There’s a reason you work in health care or social work — you enjoy helping people. That’s not to say it’s free of hazards. When you have communication tools to keep you safe, you can continue doing what you love with peace of mind.
Contact Towne Tracking Today
Employers have the responsibility of protecting their workers’ health and safety while they’re on the job. It’s not as easy for a supervisor to look after their employees when they’re out of view. Lone workers need to take it upon themselves to know the risks of their job and ensure their safety.
Whether you’re an employer or a lone worker in the health or social care field, we’re ready to help. You don’t have to start each shift imagining the worst or wondering, “what if?” Reach out to us at Towne and learn more about our lone worker tracking system today.