The increasing number of lone workers in the UK highlights the need for employers to not only ensure they have an adequate and legally robust health & safety management system in place for their business, but to also focus on the specific risks that apply to their employees that work alone. All employees have a responsibility to take reasonable care of themselves, with lone workers being no exception, but every employer is responsible for the overall health, safety and welfare of all their workers, whether they are fully employed, contracted, or part time people doing work for them. Those who work alone should not find themselves at any greater risk than anyone else.
Lone workers are generally defined as those who work by themselves without close or direct supervision, which could be for part or all of their working shift. It is a pretty non-exhaustive list but a few examples include: those who work in fixed establishments such as small workshop, petrol station or kiosk, someone who works outside of normal hours such as security guards or cleaners, those who work off-site such as engineers and maintenance workers and service workers such as postal staff, care and social workers, or estate agents.
As with any part of your business, undertaking risk assessments is the best way to ensure you identify, address and minimise any risks to your employees. Many of those risks will be the same whether your employees work individually or in larger groups, but there are specific risks that you may want to consider for lone workers. Is the task too difficult or dangerous to be carried out by one person? Is the equipment supplied for the job appropriate for use by an individual? Could their health or wellbeing be affected by working alone i.e. exposure to chemicals or risk of violence? Are there activities they may be doing alone that would ordinarily be undertaken by two or more people, such as lifting heavy objects or the use of ladders or working on live electricity? If any activities pose a significant risk that cannot be mitigated by just one person working on their own, then the activity needs to be modified, or help or back-up needs to be available.
The decision as to the extent of supervision required for lone workers should be made on the assessment of the level of risk you have identified: basically, the higher the risk and the level of experience the greater level of supervision required. And remember, it is the job of the employer to make those decisions and not of the employee. From time to time, it is worth reassessing the level of supervision, particularly when new tasks are being undertaken, when the working environment may have changed, or if someone is new to the job. Regular monitoring procedures also need to be in place as an effective means of communication to ensure the safety of lone workers. These may include pre-agreed regular contact, staff security systems and reporting systems to ensure a lone worker has returned to their base or home once they have finished their work. Modern IT and communication systems offer the possibility of remotely supervising lone workers.
As well as assessing the risks of your lone workers’ day to day activities, you also need to consider specific procedures for unforeseen events, such as illness or accidents. You need to make them aware of your emergency procedures and ensure they are fully trained in them. What should they do if they have an accident? Who should they contact, or should be contacted on their behalf if seriously injured? Perhaps you will identify that they should receive first aid training and carry their own first aid kits. If your employee has an existing medical condition, you should seek advice from an expert to ensure it is considered safe for the individual to work on their own, without any additional risk.
Looking after workers health and well-being is a legal requirement and an ethical commitment. Comprehensive Health & Safety management is no more or less important whether your business is big or small or whether your employees work in groups or on their own. So take some advice from a professional and save yourself from the risk of legal action, hefty fines, loss of profits and injury to your workforce.
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