We all want to feel safe at work, but when it comes to lone workers, this is especially important. Many businesses in the UK are highly reliant on their lone workers to perform a wide range of essential roles, such as delivery drivers, GPs, estate agents, health workers, carers, plumbers, electricians, emergency workers, IT workers, security guards, police, maintenance workers, and engineers.
According to the British Safety Council, around 150 lone workers are physically or verbally attacked each day. Not only can a robust and proactive approach to risk management for lone working pay dividends in terms of safety, but it also makes those individuals feel safer at work.
Technology now plays a key role in keeping lone workers safe through the use of two-way radios, mobile phone apps and GPS tracking services. Managing the health and safety risks encountered by lone workers is not only essential in ensuring their protection, it is a legal requirement.
What are the threats faced by lone workers?
Lone workers face a wide range of potential threats and risks, including:
- physical violence
- verbal abuse
- lack of help in the event of a medical problem
- increased stress, anxiety, and loneliness
- slips, trips, and falls
Threats to lone workers may be faced in a wide range of settings, including shops, care homes, private dwellings, public transport, hospitals, schools, warehouses, and factories.
One of the biggest concerns is that in the event of an emergency of any kind, a lone worker may be unable to request emergency assistance if they are in an isolated area or there is no one around to help.
What are the legal duties of employers to protect the safety of lone workers?
Employers have a legal duty towards all lone workers under:
- the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act, and
- the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations.
Under Section 3 of the Management of Health & Safety Regulations 1999, all employers have a legal duty to carry out a “suitable and sufficient assessment of” the risks to the health and safety of workers.
It is important to note that the law protects not just direct employees but also any contractors, volunteers or self-employed individuals. The duty imposed on businesses to protect the health and safety of staff cannot be transferred to someone else; this includes lone workers.
What is involved in lone worker risk management?
Carrying out regular and thorough risk management is a vital tool in the protection of lone workers. Risk management in the context of lone working should include the assessment of all areas of lone worker risk, including the medical suitability of individual staff members to work alone.
Engage with employees
Where possible, it is almost always useful to engage with your staff on the risks they face when working alone. They may advise you of lone working risks you had not considered or had not been brought to your attention. If your staff will be working on another site that is not run directly by you, it is essential that you engage directly with the organisation responsible for onsite health and safety to ensure that the necessary measures are in place.
Record and manage risks
An effective system of recording and managing any risks identified is a must (e.g. spreadsheet or specialist risk assessment software). Your lone working risk register should include all of the hazards you have identified, how these hazards may cause harm, and what you are doing to control these. Where possible, the risks identified should be completely removed, or if this is not possible, the potential should be reduced.
Lone worker mitigations might include:
- dedicated safety training for lone workers
- clear rules on the level of experience needed for lone workers
- putting in place systems to monitor and supervise lone workers
- putting in place systems to respond to an incident in a timely manner
- identifying high-risk activities that may require a risk assessment before they can be carried out (e.g. diving operations, working on electrical equipment, or in a confined space).
- provide ways for lone workers to remain in regular communication with a supervisor
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