Using a buddy system to keep workers safe
A buddy system is a common way to reduce risk in the workplace. But is it the most effective way to keep your workers safe?
What is a workplace buddy system?
A buddy system is when colleagues are paired up and given equal responsibility for each other’s safety and wellbeing.
Usually, the buddies accompany each other while completing the same or similar work. Common examples include a co-driver during a night ride, a second shop-floor employee as a deterrent for shoplifters, or a colleague who accompanies an employee on a home visit to a client or patient.
However, in some cases, the buddy system will be used by lone working colleagues who do not work in the same location, but they check in with each other regularly to ensure their wellbeing. For example, after each appointment or when arriving safely home.
To find out more about the types of roles where a work buddy might be used for safety purposes, take a look at our article: What is a lone worker?
Why do companies use a buddy system?
As a lone working employee, you run the risk of becoming a victim of violence, abuse, or aggression. You can also fall, trip, or become unwell.
When you work alongside other colleagues, there is usually someone nearby who can help you if an incident occurs. But if you work alone, you need another means to raise an alarm. If you have a buddy system in place, this could be contacting your work buddy.
4 advantages of a workplace buddy system
- Ensure colleagues get home safely
Some workplace buddy systems will advise colleagues to check-in (usually via text message or phone call) with each other when they arrive home safely at the end of a shift – providing peace of mind to colleagues and managers. But what happens if someone forgets to check-in, they are delayed on their way home, or they’re involved in an incident which prevents them from getting in touch with their buddy? It’s important to have a clear escalation procedure for this type of situation.
- Provide a friendly ear
A buddy at work can provide a friendly ear when a problem arises that requires a second opinion. Some workers, especially those who work alone, may really value having someone to turn to.
- A perceived low-cost solution
Many organisations perceive a buddy system as a low-cost safety solution; lone working buddies can use their personal or company-owned mobile phones to stay in contact with each other. This means there is no obvious outlay. However, several hidden costs should be considered (see below).
- Provide reassurance and backup
Where a buddy physically accompanies a colleague during their shift, a worker may feel more relaxed and reassured that they’ll have some backup should something happen. This can work well for security guards, paramedics, and police, for example. However, this can mean that a worker lowers their guard, making them more vulnerable (see below).
6 disadvantages of a workplace buddy system
- It can be surprisingly expensive
Many tasks that are performed by two employees in a buddy system can also be done by one employee. However, because two employees are needed for safety reasons, an employer must sometimes hire two people for a 'one-person position'. This often leads to a large increase in labour costs, and it can be difficult to establish the return on investment in terms of whether employing an additional person actually has a positive impact on safety.
- Work buddies may have a false sense of security
Sometimes, employees are less wary of danger when surrounded by colleagues. This also applies to an employee who works together with a buddy. Because an employee has a false sense of security, they may be less likely to take safety precautions. This creates a greater chance of an incident occurring, which means that working with a buddy can, in some cases, have a counterproductive effect on improving safety.
- An incident may involve both buddies, making it impossible to raise an alarm
If two buddies are working closely together, it stands to reason that they will both be involved in an incident if it occurs. This may make it impossible for either colleague to raise an alarm. Examples include: an accident involving both colleagues, or an incident of aggression (when making an emergency phone call would only intensify the situation).
The SoloProtect lone worker safety solution allows users to discreetly call for help at the push of a Red Alert button, and it will automatically detect a man-down situation.
- Huge stress implications
Being accountable for the health and safety of a colleague is a huge responsibility and can understandably be extremely stressful. Consider what would happen if an employee failed to answer the phone to their buddy in an emergency. One employee may be harmed and the other would have to live with the guilt for the rest of their lives. Therefore, a buddy system at work can have a huge negative impact on mental health and wellbeing.
- Holidays are more difficult to manage
If your business relies on a workplace buddy system for safety, organising holidays can be extremely difficult. Either both workers must take their holidays at the same time, or a backup buddy would need to be found.
- Buddy systems generally rely on mobile phone coverage
As mentioned above, for most buddy systems to be effective, personal or company-owned mobile phones are essential. But what happens when there’s no signal? This is a big issue for people who work in rural areas or underground, for example. SoloProtect’s personal safety solution offers a feature called Monitoring Timer that’s specifically designed to provide protection in low signal areas.
Protecting lone workers from risk
It is important to properly protect lone workers from environmental and social risks. The workplace buddy system is a better alternative than working alone without protection, but it is far from an ideal solution.
A lone worker safety system diminishes the need for a buddy system at work, and reduces risk and personnel costs.