The Dangers of Cutting Lone Workers’ Training by Nicole Vasquez

It is no secret that training budgets are one of the first to get cut when times get tough. However, when it comes to abandoning lone worker safety and security training, for both front line staff and their managers, this decision may not only be short-sighted, but also potentially dangerous and expensive.

Frontline lone workers need to be some of the most skilled people in our businesses, not only are they the face of our company, they make decisions on our behalf that could affect the safety and security of themselves and others.

So, if these staff are the centre of our business, we need to ensure that we provide them with the skills and knowledge they need to enhance our business and keep themselves and others safe. 

I was once told a story about Walt Disney who was challenged by his finance team on the training budget. “Walt, what if we train them and then they leave?” His reply, “What if we don’t train them and they stay?” I think there is wisdom in these words (whether or not Disney actually said them)!

We discussed with some of our clients the reasons why they stop (or freeze) training and although not a scientific study by any stretch of the imagination, the answers are interesting:

  • Lack of funds – when money is tight, training in general is not seen as business critical or essential. It can be seen as a ‘it can wait’ expense and it goes into the ‘next year’ pile.
  • Unable to release staff – with less people doing more work there is no slack in the business (especially when the staff member in question is a lone worker – who will cover their shift!)
  • Not on our agenda at present – other priorities take over. Business planning for Brexit was an interesting one that got mentioned!
  • No easily accessible training available – it’s hard to find appropriate training that covers what we need.

It’s notable that there is one reason that is significant by its absence; no-one said it was because the training wasn’t needed!

Lone Working Risks

Lone working increases the risk to staff in many different ways and as, by default, lone workers rely on their own judgement and actions to keep themselves safe, training is one key way to equip staff with the skills and strategies needed.  This need does not diminish because budgets do. It is true that there is a cost to providing training, although I would argue there could be a greater cost to not training for the wellbeing of staff, the bottom line and the business’ reputation if incidents occur.

Moving to using more lone workers makes perfect business sense with the potential savings in staff costs, so long as any risks to the individual and the business are controlled. If some of the potential savings made are invested in training then this can offset some of the risks, help staff to feel valued, supported and ensure the benefits of lone working are maximised.

So how can we make sure that our staff get the professional development they need and the business gains the benefits of well trained staff?

Our ethos is that you should always start with managers. “Provide professional development to those who will develop others”.

Often managers are the group that are missed out, even when lone worker training is in full flow. And yet, this is the group that has to actively manage the risks to lone workers and the fall out when it goes wrong. If you not convinced about the need to train your managers, think about these questions:

  • Do your managers understand how lone working impacts on the potential for and outcome of aggressive or violent incidents? Do they know how it can affect stress levels or mental health issues?
  • Do they understand the need for risk assessments and are they aware of risk controls appropriate for lone working? Do they make sure they are in place and monitored?
  • Do they promote and model expected behaviours, coach lone workers and reinforce messages in one-to-ones and in team briefings?
  • Do they know what to do if an incident does occur and could they effectively support their team or manage the media?

Options

Businesses need to be more creative in how they deliver training to overcome the challenges of budget constraints and staff availability. We have supported organisations with finding various solutions that in different combinations have had engaging and effective results.

  • E-learning – great for awareness raising and starting the conversation about safety and lone working. If well designed with an interactive element, it can be a successful tool for sharing and checking knowledge as well as communicating policies, procedures and expectations.  E-learning works well as a solid base for further initiatives and allows staff to complete at their own pace and take control of their time.
  • On-line communities – these can be a great way to keep the conversation going and as a platform for sharing information, concerns and best practice. As well as training these can be used to collect information from lone workers who would otherwise have no easy way of sharing their experiences, concerns and ideas.
  • Lunch ‘n’ learn – for lone workers who work away from base, this can be an informal way of getting groups together. Building on bite size chunks of information is often a good way of increasing learning retention and short regular meetings allow lone workers to become part of a larger group, building supportive relationships.
  • One-day industry or topic events – great for gathering information and education from a range of experts that you would not normally have access to. Fabulous for networking and learning from other organisations, both in the security industry and in other sectors.
  • Embedding Champions – training specific individuals within the business to be the central point of contact for lone working issues. They should be trained with underpinning knowledge, well versed in the policies and procedures and proactively promote and support their use. Often we provide a second line of support for the Champions who may themselves need advice and guidance.
  • Targeted high impact training – there is no getting away from the fact that there will be some groups of lone workers that will need specific risk-based training. Lone Workers who face the potential for conflict or violence and aggression for example may need experiential conflict management training to provide them with proven skills and techniques alongside the opportunity to try out the skills (and gain valuable feedback) in realistic scenarios.

It is unlikely that any of the above in isolation would provide sufficient training, but a combination of some the above could deliver a cost effective way of providing the necessary professional development for your lone workers and their managers – unless of course you really think they don’t need it!

Continued Professional Development

For staff and managers to buy-in to the training provided, it is worth thinking about what they want and what they will get from it. The obvious knowledge and confidence should be a given. However, we have noticed that many more staff are interested in Continued Professional Development (CPD) schemes. It provides proof that this person is committed to their career and see it as more than just a job. And as more and more employers are expecting an up to date CPD file from prospective employees (or those seeking advancement) it is becoming a necessity in today’s job market.

If you just thought back to the comments from Disney’s finance team, “What if we train them and they leave?” remember; capable, well-trained, quality staff are good for your business and enhance the reputation of the security industry as a whole – making it an easier place to recruit in to and a safer place to work.

Nicole Vazquez

Nicole Vazquez has been the Managing Director of Worthwhile Training for 20 years. Her company offers training to support businesses in managing the risks associated with lone working, work-related stress, violence and aggression, bullying and harassment. They work across many industries including security, retail, rail and government bodies.

Nicole is also the organiser of the Lone Worker Safety Expo Conference, the only event in the UK focussed on the safety, security and wellbeing of lone workers. Readers of TPSO are entitled to a reduced delegate fee and everyone who attends gets a full day of CPD points. The event is on the 15th October in Central London.

www.worthwhiletraining.com

www.loneworkersafetyexpo.com