Safety first for scribes and editors

Sally-Anne Watson Kane . Sunday, April 09, 2017 . Comments
Safety first for scribes and editors

If you're a freelancer or business owner/operator providing scribing or editing services to the public, it's important to have some policies and procedures to keep you personally safe at work. These might include 1) an OH&S policy,  2) deciding when and where it's safe to meet clients, and 3) having good intuition and relying on it.


While occupational health and safety regulations are the norm in larger workplaces, many scribes and editors who work from home-based offices don't place any importance on having a formal OH&S policy or even making sure they maintain a safe workplace. But whether you work in an external office or work alone in a home-based office, it's important to have a set of rules about OH&S and stick to them to make sure you maintain safety in your workplace; e.g. for a scribe or editor that OH&S policy might include (but is certainly not limited to) having:

  • Adjustable chair, footrest; computer screens at correct height; suitable lighting and natural light
  • Rules about regular breaks from work (e.g. a break every 2 hours)
  • Floor clear of obstructions including leads and cords
  • Desks/tables not overloaded with equipment/clutter
  • Storage cupboards or shelves that are safe to access; use step ladders if necessary
  • If you meet clients in your office: enough space for extra chair/s; direct route from doorway to client's chair
  • Electricity outlets and powerboards to be used safely (no overloading); no mobile/iphone or other chargers  left plugged in; when appliances not in use, switch off at powerboards/wall sockets.

A safe meeting place

If you're a scribe or editor providing services to the public you'll sometimes need to meet clients face to face; e.g. if you're an editor you'll need to consult with them about editing their manuscript, or if you're a scribe you may need to scribe a client's dictation. But where is a safe and appropriate place to meet? In your office? In their office? If they don't have an office, their home? Or if they don't have a formal office, would it be appropriate, and safer, to meet them in a public place such as a library or quiet cafe?

We would love to live in a world where women were just as safe as men; where a woman could safely invite a strange man into her home-based office to talk about editing, or meet a male client in his home, or at a pub in the evening.

Back to reality. Unless you're proficient in self-defence, if you're a woman and you invite a man whom you don't know to your home-based office, and there's no one else in your house to back you up, you may be putting yourself at risk. If you meet a new client anywhere in the evening, or in his home, you may be putting yourself at risk. Whereas if you were a man, you could invite any number of strange men to your home-based office or meet them at any time of day or night anywhere, anyhow, and you'd probably be fine.

Safety first for female scribes and editors

If you're a scribe or editor freelancer or owner/operator working from home, and you need to meet or consult with a male client who has a formal office in town and/or works for a large business or company, it's usually safe and appropriate for you to meet him in his office.

You shouldn't invite a male client you don't know from a bar of soap to meet you in your home-based office unless:

  • you have met the client before (in another location) and feel confident it is safe to meet them in your office, or
  • the client runs a business and has a formal office and/or works for a well-known business or company, or
  • you have a dog trained to defend you who is your 'back-up' in the house while you're meeting a client, or
  • you have an adult (either male or female) who is your 'back-up' in the house while you're meeting a client.

You should also avoid going to a male client's house unless you've already met him, checked him out and are confident he is okay. If you need to do some work for a male client either in their home or in an office based within their home, suggest an initial meeting with them in a public place so you can have a chat with the client and assess how safe they are before deciding to take that next step and meet them in their home.

Safety first for all scribes and editors

If you're a home-based business owner or freelancer working from home: don't advertise your office (i.e. your home) address in your advertisements, website or anywhere online unless you can't avoid it. That way, the only way for a new client to find out where you live - or worse, to drop into your home-based office unannounced - is for you to tell them.

Whether you're male or female, before telling a client your address or inviting them to your home-based office, you should make sure you have communicated with them not only via email, but via telephone; and you should have spoken to them for long enough to gauge whether they're the sort of person you choose to invite into your office and, potentially, your life. Some people who need scribing or editing services are eccentric or neurotic; others mentally ill. This doesn't mean they can't be your clients but because you don't know quite what to expect from them, it may be wise to meet them in a public place rather than in your office. So make sure the new client sounds reasonably well-balanced before inviting them to your house. How balanced they need to be for you to assess them as 'safe enough' to invite into your office may depend on your experience in dealing with people with varying degrees of mental health, whether you're male or female and whether you have 'back-up' in the house.

The safest place for you to meet a new client is in a public place. Most libraries have alcoves where you can have semi-private meetings and some have private meeting rooms for hire. Depending on the type of job and client and what you want to talk about or work on during your meeting, a quiet cafe or pub might also be an appropriate place to meet.

How well do you know your client?

Do you know your client well enough to invite them to your home-based office to work with them on their project?

  • If you've met the client before in another location and feel you know them reasonably well, and that they're safe to meet alone in your office, and you are a good judge of character, then it's probably safe to invite them.
  • If you've been talking to the client via telephone and online and feel you know them pretty well, and there have been no red flags raised by their comments or manner, you may want to meet them in your home-based office and if you have suitable 'back-up' support in your house (as discussed above) then it's probably okay.
  • If you've been talking to your client online only (via emails), make sure you speak to them via telephone before inviting them to your office. Only by talking to them verbally will you be able to gauge their personality and assess how balanced and reasonable they are and whether they're the sort of person you want to invite.
  • If you think you 'know' your client because they've been referred to you by a mutual colleague, think again. You don't know them well enough to invite them to your office until you've either met them personally and checked them out yourself, or have suitable 'back-up' support in place that ensures it's safe to meet clients you don't know, in your home-based office.

The importance of intuition

Regardless of whether you're male or female, you shouldn't be meeting clients alone anywhere unless you have good intuition and have enough life experience to be a good judge of character. If you're alone with a client and intuitively doubt their integrity, honesty or mental stability:

  • if you're in your own office, ask your 'back-up' person (or dog) to hover nearby the office in case you need them, and make sure the client is aware they're there, then if you feel safe, continue your meeting. If you don't feel safe ask them to leave
  • if you're in the client's home or office and although you don't feel in danger, something doesn't feel 'right' about the client, make an excuse and leave; and make sure that next time you meet the client in a public venue, or in your office if you have suitable 'back-up'. If you feel you are in danger, leave immediately (with or without stating an excuse)
  • if you're in a public place and something doesn't feel 'right' about the client, use your own judgement about whether to stay or leave. (However, in my experience, if something doesn't feel 'right' it's best to advise the client you can't work for them.) If you feel you are in danger, leave immediately (with or without stating an excuse).


This article is based on my own experiences since 2002 when I started On Time Typing as a sole trader scribing and editing business in Darwin, which has over the years evolved into an online scribing, editing and audio transcription business with clients across Australia.

Stay posted for future articles about different aspects of freelancing and managing owner/operator and home-based businesses.


Copyright Sally-Anne Watson Kane, On Time Typing. Please seek my permission prior to reproducing this article in any way but feel free to link directly to this page if you wish to use this content - thanks!


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