Managing Health and Safety Risks for Lone Workers
An estimated six to eight million people are considered lone workers in the UK, or about 22% of the working population. The Health and Safety Executive defines these as people working by themselves, in a situation where they have no others nearby or any direct supervision. This can include not only people working remotely from home, but also those whose work involves travelling or acting alone.
A worker can be classed as alone, even if they have team members or supervisors elsewhere. What it means is that these employees are out of sight and earshot of another worker, even if that’s temporary – like a delivery driver out on a job or someone on security patrol.
What are the main risks?
Environmental risks include atmospheric and natural disasters, which may leave a lone worker confined or injured without help. Drivers in many jobs face adverse weather and navigation conditions, while surveyors or engineers may fall or experience machine hazards. There are also chemical or biological risks, such as those recently faced in the pandemic.
Those in contact with the public, such as meter readers, estate agents and health workers, may additionally be at risk of assault or abduction. Security personnel and those staffing 24-hour garages and retail facilities also face the threat of robberies and violence.
Injuries can be physical, ergonomic from too much sitting or standing, or mental from isolation, sleep deprivation or stress. Lone workers are much more at risk from an unforeseen illness like a stroke or heart attack. Without any means of getting help, they may not receive the emergency medical care which could save their lives.
Employers are legally obliged under the 1974 Health and Safety Act to undertake a thorough risk assessment for lone workers, including self-employed people and contractors. You should take into account any environmental risks, interaction with others and task-based physical and/or mental well-being. Before authorising any employee to work alone, you must be sure that a single person can do that job safely.
You have a duty of care to make sure your workers are ‘reasonably safe’, by assessing and controlling the potential risks of ill health or injury. All necessary measures must be undertaken for their safety, and this includes giving them comprehensive training on the risks and responsibilities of working alone. Part of your risk assessment may include their understanding of these risks and responsibilities, and their capacity to deal with them.
Lone workers must still be supervised, however remotely, and monitored at regular intervals. The HSE advises that you maintain regular contact, whether this is by site visits, check-in texts or phone calls. Lone workers must also have a means of calling for help if they experience any uncomfortable situation or emergency. They may perhaps access safety apps on mobile devices, for monitoring and emergencies, although there is still a risk if the device gets damaged or service is unavailable.
If you’d like help or advice on conducting a risk assessment for lone workers, please don’t hesitate to give us a call.