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Case study: How Sovereign implemented SoloProtect for lone workers

Avoiding common pitfalls when introducing a lone worker solution

“The risks lone workers all face are social risks, whether that’s visiting people in their own homes, or seeing new and prospective tenants,” said health and safety advisor at Sovereign Housing, Rachel Peters.

Sovereign was a housing association with 38,000 homes in the south and south west of England, and about half of its 1,000 staff were lone workers to some extent, she told delegates at Safety and Health Expo yesterday.

The organisation had controls in place around issues such as conflict management, she said, and staff were provided with technology so that they were always contactable. “When our lone workers are subject to verbal or physical aggression we report that back and share it, so we can see what lessons can be learned and what additional controls could be put in place.”

Sovereign had engaged SoloProtect to provide a contact system for its 350 staff, but circumstances had meant that the initiative had to be rolled out very quickly, she explained. “We knew we had an issue with lone workers being issued with the devices but not using them.

“So where were things going wrong? One thing we identified was that there was no formal written procedure for lone working in place. Not having a document made it unclear to our lone workers what was expected of them, and made it difficult for us because there was no standard to audit against. As the initiative had been led by us and managed by us it was seen as health and safety’s problem to put right – there was no wider context for the organisation as a whole.”

The lack of an implementation plan also meant a lack of management engagement, she said. “We hadn’t included them in the whole embedding process, and therefore there was slow uptake of training.”

Sovereign had also lost the opportunity to address “niggles and teething problems” by trying to roll out the scheme across 350 staff in 18 different offices in one go, she said. “We should have done it in small teams. Minor issues became bigger than was necessary.

“There were a number of lessons we learned from not having that implementation plan and not getting managers involved,” she continued, with apathy and complacency among staff one key issue. “A lot of people had been there a long time and thought ‘I’ve been doing this for years – why is now any different? Nothing’s going to happen to me.’”

Another issue arose when SoloProtect upgraded while the project was “a hundred models in”, which meant that two different devices were being managed simultaneously. “So not only did we give managers a bit of kit they didn’t understand, we complicated it by giving them two versions of it.

“We contacted SoloProtect and said, ‘It’s not working – what can you support us with?’” she said. “They came up with a plan, and we worked with them to implement elements of that.” A key step was to take all existing documents and combine them into a single strategy, which was then published on the company’s intranet and embedded in an e-learning package. “It’s part of our audit trail that people know what they’re doing when they’re lone working,” she said.

When Sovereign upgraded all the devices to the same model, it was done face-to-face with 120 staff, she explained. “It gave us the opportunity to find out how people were getting on with the devices, whether they had any concerns, and whether they’d read the guidance.”

Training was then rolled out to everyone, including managers, and “we started to be quite blunt in senior management reports about the discrepancies between the numbers of devices and users”, she said. “So there’s now pressure from the top down to get everyone working with the device. We’ve got a big internal communications team and we worked with them to get the messages out.”

This involved reinforcing positive behaviour through things like monthly league tables, she said, while SoloProtect also contacted users directly to reinforce the importance of training. “They were giving the same messages as us, so it was a consistent drip feeding, and we’ve also taken on board all the feedback.

“We’ve got clarity now, with no grey areas,” she continued. “We’ve got a standard we can make sure staff are aware of and we can audit against, and usage rates have improved. So make sure you get buy-in from managers, consult people at the first hurdle and get honest feedback, even if it means looking at multiple solutions to fit the population of your lone workers.

“Be clear about what you want to achieve, and who needs to be involved.”

Source: SHP Online

Article Published 27.6.2016