Career clinic: staying safe on dark nights

Q: Feeling confident when out and about, and keeping safe, is an issue for every season, but this is particularly the case on dark winter nights, and agencies should be reflecting on the personal safety of all their employees. It’s an issue for fieldworkers doing evening home visits, for home carers who are out early in the morning and late at 60x60night, and also for residential workers with late night shift changes. Considering and minimising risk is a task for workers themselves and for employers, writes Ray Jones (right).

For workers, being properly equipped, for example with a torch and an accessible personal alarm, is just sensible practice, for both women and men. And if travelling by car it makes sense to ensure that it is not going to run low on fuel. Keeping to well used routes and trying to stay visible to others is what we should be looking to do when out at night, whether at work or not.

When visiting unknown households, or households and areas known to be higher risk, explicit consideration should be given by the worker, along with their supervisor, about whether the visit should be undertaken alone or whether it should be a double-hander, either with an immediate colleague or with an appropriate colleague from another agency. Out-of hours GP services now often, for example, include an escort/driver accompanying the GP to home visits, albeit usually waiting outside, and it would be very unusual for a police officer to be out on their own at night.

But there are other sensible practices to be followed, especially when out visiting alone. This should include a reporting out and a reporting in procedure. For example, it might include informing the emergency duty out-of-hours service (or a duty manager) about an evening visit which is being undertaken and then reporting back to the out-of-hours service on completion of the visit, with the out-of-hours service alert to follow up any non-response.

We ought to be better at all of this now with the advent of mobile phones, but agencies should also be considering providing workers undertaking home visits with the new generation of GPS phones with emergency alarm/panic buttons relaying through to a control call centre. The danger is that we will get around to this only after there has been a tragedy within an organisation.

Ray Jones (left) is professor of social work at Kingston University and St George’s, University of London, and is a former director of social services and BASW chair

Reader’s response

I work sometimes as a personal safety/conflict management trainer. Here are a few things to keep you safe: always survey the area you are walking in. Look for street lights that are out. Look in and around your vehicle as you approach. Vans with sliding doors that sit alongside your car make for a good way to grab you. Don’t pass by alleys or doorways too closely. If you are not familiar with the area, the street you are on may change from morning to evening. What was a busy business district in the morning may be a wasteland at 8pm. So leave when it is still light and people are about.

Dale Cooper, learning and development manager, Bedfordshire Council


I’m about to return to the UK after working overseas as a social worker for several years. I’m not sure about the job market where should I start looking and will the skills I gained abroad be recognised back in the UK?

We will answer this question in the 20 November issue of Community Care. We want to publish your advice too – send it to by 13 November.

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