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How to stay safe as a lone worker

We've had a bit of discussion recently in the SNAP community Facebook group about incidents at weddings where the behaviour of guests has crossed a line into unacceptable.  This led on to discussions about looking after ourselves when lone working and visiting clients at home or working in non-public spaces.

If you work for a big company you can expect to receive training about lone working and there is a requirement for companies to have policies around personal safety, acceptable behaviour and also the physical and mental welfare of staff, but as self employed freelancers it's often difficult to know what steps to take to protect ourselves and what level of behaviour can be deemed to be unacceptable.

Lone Working
If you are visiting a client at home or in a non-public space, consider taking the following precautions

  • Make sure someone always knows where you are
  • Check in with a 'buddy' at the start and end of each appointment
  • Look for risks on arrival
  • If you feel uncomfortable or threatened, leave.  You can make an excuse and say you need to get something from your car.
  • Trust your instincts

    You should check with your insurance company to see if they have any specific requirements in relation to precautions for lone working.

Unacceptable behaviour
While working it's reasonable to expect that people engage with you in a professional manner.  From wedding guests to venue staff to people you visit in their homes, you have a right to be treated with respect and dignity.

Unacceptable behaviour may include (but is not limited to!) actions, words or physical gestures that make you feel uncomfortable including:

  • Threats
  • Intimidation
  • Bullying
  • Failure to afford equal respect to you on the basis of age, disability, gender, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation, marriage or civil partnership, and pregnancy and maternity
  • Abusive or unwanted and offensive behaviour or language
  • Violence or threats of violence

It is a good idea to have a clause in your contract which covers you if a) you need to leave a shoot because of the behaviour of someone that's in attendance and b) you are unable to complete the shoot because of said behaviour.

Dealing with difficult behaviour
If you experience difficult or unwanted behaviour don't minimise it. Trust your gut and remove yourself from the situation if you need to.  

If you're working in a venue make the venue manager aware of the situation and ask that their team keep an eye on you.  Every situation is different but in most cases, if you are experiencing harassment by a guest, it would be appropriate to inform your client. 

In the case of harassment on the grounds of age, disability, gender, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation, marriage or civil partnership, and pregnancy and maternity you should consider issuing your client with a warning that you will cease working if the behaviour continues. 

If there are threats of violence or actual violence you should remove yourself from the situation immediately and contact the police.

It's easy to feel bad for your clients that one of their guests behaved this way but that's NOT your fault.  You have a right to do your job without the fear of harassment.

Remember, if you were an employee your employer would have a duty to deal with this behaviour and ensure your safety.  As a self employed person, you should be your own amazing boss and make sure your safety and welfare is a priority at all times. 

You can find more information about personal safety, lone working and other issues on the Suzy Lamplugh Trust website. 

Find more How To posts here.