Retail sales - Electrical engineers
Work-related violence case studies
Dougal and Railton Ltd is a medium-sized electrical engineering company based in Newcastle Upon Tyne. It deals solely with commercial and industrial premises and not domestic homes. The company employs approximately 60 staff, 14 in the office and about 45 engineers and electricians. The engineers and electricians work alone for up to 70 percent of their time.
Lone workers work in three fields:
- electrical maintenance (eg portable appliance testing and inspection of appliances);
- reactive maintenance (eg fault-finding and repairs); and
- installations (eg fitting new electrical sockets).
All operatives work away from the office and are therefore considered to be mobile.
- Environmental factors: working in environments such as probation hostels or prisons where residents are more likely to have mental health problems and to be potentially more violent.
- Isolated properties: working at isolated properties, such as small Army Training Cadet huts on the moors.
- Equipment: carrying expensive electrical equipment.
Examples of incidents
- A screwdriver was put to an engineer's face while working in a probation hostel.
- The same engineer, the next day at the same hostel, was threatened by a Stanley knife taken from his bag.
- Thieves have broken into engineers' vehicles parked outside jobs, usually for their electrical equipment or mobile phones.
Safety conscious attitude: The company is very health and safety conscious and is aware that violence against lone workers is increasing. Management is always looking for ways of improving the health and safety of employees.
Employee handbooks: All employees receive handbooks which include health and safety information.
Daily job records: Office staff have records of engineers' jobs and have a reasonable idea where the engineers are during the day. However, the exact whereabouts of engineers at given times are not always known.
Management support: All employees have the support of management. If an incident of violence or abuse occurs managers write to clients making it clear that this behaviour is unacceptable and advising of any action the company is considering.
Staff suggestions: Staff are encouraged to offer suggestions and raise problems or concerns during daily meetings in the office, meetings with supervisors on different sites and monthly staff management meetings.
Work environment and equipment
Mobile phones: The use of mobile phones is considered the company's most successful measure. All employees carry mobile phones so they can contact the office quickly. There is no formal system for ringing the office at given times, as it is thought that employees may feel that management are 'keeping tabs' on them. However, there is regular contact as engineers often ring the office for materials and parts orders.
Client contact: if a job is at a location considered a potential risk, a manager speaks to the client before the engineer attends. This enables clients to put in place measures to reduce the risk.
Insisting on client presence: in some locations, such as prisons or probation hostels, managers insist that a prison warden or a member of staff escorts engineers and attends constantly.
Doubling up: two engineers attend the job if a location is considered sensitive or if there is a risk of violence.
Risk assessment: each job requires a health and safety plan which sets out all the risks involved. All job tenders also include a method statement which highlights any health and safety risks. Dougal and Railton may add to the method statement until it is satisfied that all risks, including violence, have been sufficiently highlighted.
Less successful measures
Some measures are less effective than others:
- Sometimes mobile telephones are not able to pick up a signal. This means that staff may not be able to contact the office immediately or there is a delay in receiving and acting upon messages.
- Sending two engineers on jobs involves extra costs for clients and for the company. Work is not necessarily completed faster by using two people.
The benefits and the costs
Feeling safer: staff have fewer concerns about violence and feel more at ease while carrying out their work.
Confidence in management: staff know that managers consider that their safety is paramount.
Management confidence: managers feel confident that staff are safe and can be contacted readily.
Business efficiency: If staff feel more confident they are more likely to be efficient in their work and clients are more likely to use them again.
Good customer relations: mobile phones speed up response times to incidents or jobs. This maintains good customer relations and customer service and ultimately brings business to the organisation.
Mobile phones: these represent the main cost, at approximately £8,000 per year. But given an annual turnover of about £4 million, this is a relatively small amount - and it is not just a health and safety cost. Dougal and Railton were already using mobile phones for business purposes, such as switching engineers to emergency repair work.