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Hospitality Sector Waking up to Lone Worker Risk

Worker protection is something all employers know about: meeting their legal and moral duty of care, by providing a safe workplace for their employees. However, what many don’t think about are the unique set of circumstances that workers can face should an incident occur when they’re working alone. The risk is increased for social and environmental hazards, like physical abuse, or trips and falls, if you don’t have the usual avenues of support.

Surprisingly, in the US there is currently no law that requires companies to take specific safety measures for this vulnerable faction of the workforce. Thus, historically companies themselves have decided how, if at all, to take particular care of their lone workers. For example, some employers choose to equip their lone workers with personal protective devices that can discreetly raise an alarm in the event of an aggressive situation or detect whether a worker becomes incapacitated through an unknown health issue or a fall.

While there has been talk of legislation that better protects lone workers, the most recent and fruitful discussion has been that of laws requiring hospitality industry companies to provide their housekeeping staff with portable panic buttons to respond to abuse and attacks by guests.

Talk about a vulnerable population. They work alone, they must work very quickly meaning they don’t have time to be as aware of their surroundings, they are mostly women and often women of color which can prompt biased treatment, entering the private spaces of people who are expected to be treated as always-right, honored guests. Frequently, they also might have language barriers and not know local sexual harassment laws. On top of this, if an unmonitored situation were to occur, the pressure to speak out poses a whole host of added dilemmas for the housekeeping staff.

Therefore, although an excellent start, a simple panic button device may not be enough. However, there are more comprehensive devices available, such as the SoloProtect ID, which uses mobile phone technology to connect the user to highly-trained responders at the push of a button.

A 2016 study by Unite Here Local 1, a Chicago-based hospitality worker union, found some startling results, including that “49% of housekeepers reported having had guest(s) answer the door naked, expose themselves, or flash them.” Housekeepers also reported experiencing unwanted sexually suggestive looks or gestures (23%), being leaned over or cornered (14%), and being touched or attempted to touch (9%), among other behaviors. Barbara Ehrenreich, who worked as a hotel housekeeper for some time, addressed the issue in an interview, saying, “They go up to somebody’s room and there’s no one else there, and some guy tries something or is there with no clothes on while they try to do their jobs. This is routine.” In too-common moments like these, the housekeeper doesn’t know what is coming next. This is where lone worker protection policies and solutions can make a difference.

In 2013, New York City became the first US city to legally address this, by requiring all unionized hotels to equip their housekeepers with panic buttons. Seattle followed suit in 2016, and Chicago in 2017, by ruling to equip hotel housekeepers with devices like electronic whistles, hotel security-alerting buttons, and iPads with panic functions. In addition, Seattle requires the hotel to keep track of the accused abusers. Just this month, Sacramento county passed a similar law, and Las Vegas is currently discussing it.

Though the magnitude of the issue is disheartening, there is hope for change. These policies not only aim to protect this specific sector of lone workers, but also might begin to pave the way for further attention to other sectors. Beyond legislation, the hospitality industry must decide if they are willing to meet their legal and moral duty to provide a safe workplace for their employees, by changing the culture around what is acceptable behavior from guests. “The customer is always right” attitude can only go so far. According to the same 2016 study, “90% of hospitality workers surveyed said they would feel more comfortable reporting a guest’s sexual harassment if their employer was required to ban guests who sexually harass employees.”

Clearly, there is a huge need for transformation, and it looks like the employee side is certainly ready for it. Panic buttons and other personal protective devices seem to be a great start, as “96% of housekeepers surveyed said they would feel safer if they were equipped with a panic button.” If lawmakers and the hospitality industry continue to make tangible, effective changes for their staff, the lone working world will become a whole lot safer.


For more information on the lone worker safety solutions supplied by SoloProtect click here.

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