HEALTH AND SAFETY: LONE WORKING

Peninsula Team

June 24 2011

At a recent Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) Conference at the Excel Centre, David Craik, CMIOSH, one of our Health and Safety Consultants was in the audience to hear Ms Sarah Bates, from the Health and Safety Executive’s Worker Involvement and Inclusion Team, speak on the subject of “Lone Working-Best Practices and Strategies”. In this brief article he summarises the presentation.

The Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) call centre receives on average 150 calls per month about issues around Lone Working. There is no statistical information from the accidents and cases of ill-health reported to HSE to show how many are attributed to working alone. It is, however, generally accepted that the risks to people working alone can be higher than those working alongside others.

An employee is a ‘lone worker’ if they work by themselves without close or direct supervision. The lone worker may be working, for example, unaccompanied on an isolated part of an otherwise busy worksite, working alone at night or on a public holiday, or be working away from their base workplace. Jobs that commonly fall into the ‘lone working’ category include installation and maintenance staff, sales representatives, those in small business workshops, in remote areas of a large site and many social and healthcare workers.

Other than in very specific cases there is no legal requirement that specifically prohibits workers from working on their own. The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 requires employers to provide a safe and healthy environment for all employees and this duty of care extends to Lone Workers. They should not be at any greater risk than other employees.

In practice this means that their employer needs to have a good idea of the types of hazards and risks that that the lone worker will face on a daily basis. The employer responsible for the health and safety of the lone worker will need to spend some time with the lone worker to see the hazards and potential risks that they face, the control measures used and to discuss the worker’s concerns about working on their own. It is important that the work and the risks involved can be properly controlled by one person. If one person is sent to do a job that can only be done safely by two, possibly personal liability is bound to fall on the employer or the manager who tacitly or directly authorised the task to one person. If the job is likely to be challenging and requires a management decision, this decision should not be left to the person working alone if it is not within their immediate and specific competence.
Issues which should always be considered by employers of lone workers include:

• Is the Lone Worker competent to work alone? Employees must be fully trained and experienced before working alone. Employees under the age of 18 must always be supervised.
• Does the workplace present a risk for the Lone Worker? Might they, for example, be working in an oxygen deficient atmosphere, a confined space or working in areas where the possible build up of an explosive atmosphere would make the presence of mobile phones a positive danger.
• Are there Company Policies and Procedures in place to eliminate, reduce or control the risks and are employees following these? Do you routinely monitor and check compliance.
• Is the Lone Worker at risk of violence? The employee may be working alone at a client’s home or dealing with members of the public who could become confrontational or violent. They might be working at night as cashier in a petrol stations or similar business where they might be a target for people wanting to steal the takings.
The hazards and risks are not difficult to control once they are recognised. The key, therefore, is to consider and asses the risks; then decide how they will be minimised or avoided. In summary, employers and managers need to:
• Assess the risks.
• Consult the workforce – this utilises the employees’ specific knowledge and insight in the assessment and also increases their awareness of the risks and the controls.
• Check on any specific regulations or guidance relating to the work in question.
• Consider training, experience and supervision of workers. Training is important to increasing employees’ awareness of the risks involved to them and others.
• Monitor and review systems in place as to their efficiency and effectiveness.

Remember that simple systems and procedures are often the best way to improve safety for lone workers. The system may only need to maintain regular contact between the Lone Worker and their supervisor by phone or radio or the introduction of a ‘buddy system’ where the absence of a routine call prompts action. Satellite tracking devices on vehicles can also assist in identifying the whereabouts of mobile workers in areas of poor radio or mobile telephone reception. In many circumstances, where the work is of low risk, a simple text message to a manager or supervisor at the end of a shift or working day to show that all is well will be all that is required.

For more information on Lone Working, or any other health and safety issue please contact the Peninsula Advice Service on 0844 892 2772.

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