Lone working in the voluntary sector carries specific risks. Voluntary workers have the best interests of others at heart; carrying out jobs and providing services that often takes them away from their own lives to help improve other peoples. They are also some of the most vulnerable types of lone workers. Read on for a further look at the voluntary sector and why charity workers could benefit from lone worker alarms.
What Is the Voluntary Sector?
The UK voluntary sector comprises organisations which aim to improve and enrich society, rather than gain material wealth.
Sometimes referred to as the third sector, not-for-profit, charity, social profit sector, the voluntary sector is made up of a wide range of activities which affect many aspects of society. The names can all be a little confusing as they are often used to mean different things.
However, it is commonly agreed that these sub-sectors sit separately from the private and public sectors because they have the common goal of improving society. It’s a big part of our society too; the most recent figures show that 853,000 people were employed in the voluntary sector in the UK in June 2016.
Confusingly, the ‘voluntary’ in the voluntary sector doesn’t mean that everyone in the sector is a volunteer, or even that the organisations are a ‘charity’. The sector includes trade unions, public arts organisations, community interest, community organisations, independent schools, faith groups, and more recently – housing associations.
Risks to Volunteer Lone Workers
We have already discussed risks to lone workers who work for housing associations in a previous post, that’s just a small portion of the sector which employs thousands of paid and unpaid people in the UK.
So, in what other voluntary organisations are lone workers at risk?
The most common risks associated with voluntary work is in community-based work. This is where volunteers or staff work with service users at home, or in centres based within communities. Charity employees in the community will spend a lot of time the general public and people in need.
This type of lone working is particularly risky as it can involve working with vulnerable and sometimes volatile people – such as those with mental health issues or substance abuse problems.
Lone workers in the voluntary sector may also work from several locations during the day, moving around different properties or centres, transporting service users or delivering items in the community.
The most obvious risks posed to charity workers is verbal and physical abuse, but there are also other lone working concerns such as accidents or illness.
Many people who work for voluntary organisations accept that what they do comes with a slight degree of risk, but that risk should be properly managed so as not to leave lone workers unnecessarily vulnerable.
Whether they are paid staff or volunteers, those working in the voluntary sector provide important services to society for which many people are grateful. The utmost care should be taken to protect these people from harm or leave your organisation facing serious questions or even fines.
A couple of years ago, Markel reported in a Third Sector article that ‘claims arising from assaults are increasing in the social care sector’. They go on to say that between September and December 2014, approximately 30% of employers liability notifications related to assaults by service users on employees or injuries sustained by employees.
Most incidents which happen within the third sector are of a verbal nature but each year there are several serious assaults resulting in prosecution.
One of the saddest stories is that of Ashleigh Ewing, a 22-year-old mental health charity worker who was brutally stabbed to death back in 2006. Miss Ewing entered the home of a service user with mental health issues where she was attacked, being stabbed 39 times. The tragic incident still stands 12 years on as a cautionary tale to those that work in the community and for those that manage lone workers.
Lone Worker Devices for Charity Workers
The risk to charity workers isn’t new, most voluntary organisations are aware of the risks and do all that they can to try and reduce them as much as possible.
Some might implement a ‘buddy system’ or telephone-based solution to try and help protect their lone workers but these are not adequate solutions as they are too open to human error and failure.
Providing that a charity has taken all other possible steps to protect their workers, such as lone working risk assessments and put in place a lone worker policy, then the next step would be to introduce lone worker devices.
Lone worker devices offer a much more robust solution for voluntary sector workers as they feature a red alert or ‘panic button’, meaning that in a hostile situation a volunteer would be able to summon help quickly, and discreetly.
Devices or apps are also a great way for charity bosses to keep track of where their team is – lone worker solutions like ours, come with a manager portal which allows team leaders or supervisors to monitor the whereabouts of their team, and what the status of their devices is.
If you work at a voluntary organisation and are concerned about lone working, then please contact us.
We would be happy to discuss your concerns and some of the solutions we can offer