Lone Working: Are Your Lone Workers Protected?

Lone workers are those who work alone without direct supervision. They are present in many job roles and face increased risk compared to those working alongside colleagues. In order to adequately protect your lone workers, you must identify who they are, assess the risks they face and take measures to ensure their safety.

A lone worker is defined by the health and safety executive as being a worker that works alone without close or direct supervision.

It is estimated that there are around 6 million lone workers in the UK, which equates to approximately 20% of the UK’s workforce. This number has only increased since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic with the introduction of social distancing and working from home.

The Office for National Statistics reported that in April 2020, 46.6% of people in employment did some of their work from home, with 86% of these home workers stating that this was because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Outside of the coronavirus pandemic, examples of lone working jobs include traffic wardens, health visitors, charitable donation collectors, estate agents and utility workers. However, there are many other roles where people may be lone working.

As an employer you may have many lone workers in your organisation and not even realise it.

If you are unsure, then there are some questions that you can ask yourself to identify if you have lone workers in your organisation. For instance, do your employees work in complete isolation all the time or on certain occasions? Do your employees travel alone to attend meetings, home visits business trips, or other events off the premises by themselves? Do your employees arrive on site before others to open up or start an early shift? Or do they stay behind to work late or lock up after hours? Do your employees work separately from other colleagues in a public facing role? Do your employees work alone remotely or from home? If you have answered yes to any of these questions then you have lone workers within your organisation.

It is also equally important to look at the type of work and working environments that your employees might be in to determine if they are sometimes working alone. For example are there areas where employees work in isolation for specific tasks? Such as going to the stock room or to retrieve goods. Are there scenarios where an employee may be left alone at a certain time of day? For example, are they covering breaks lunch times or are they filling in for staff members that are on leave. Do your employees work across a large premises that is spread over a wide area and has isolated areas away from others? For instance, a factory, or a warehouse building site, hospital, or school. Are employees able to hear others clearly? Or is there noisy machinery or anything else that may hinder their ability to get others attention quickly?

It’s important that you are aware of who is working alone within your organisation so that you can take appropriate measures to ensure their safety. There is no health and safety legislation that specifically relates to lone workers. However, there are several pieces of UK law in place to ensure the safety of employees. These include The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, The Health and Safety Offences Act 2008, The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007.

These pieces of legislation require that employers provide a safe place of work for employees. To do this they must complete a risk assessment, enact a health and safety policy, provide adequate PPE and provide staff with information and training with regards to safe working practice, to name a few requirements. For lone workers these safety measures are particularly important as the risks are often greater than those working with others within close proximity.

As an employer, you have an obligation to provide a healthy and safe working environment for your employees, also known as your duty of care. In the current climate, during the pandemic, duty of care has meant putting extra measures in place in order to allow employees to be able to carry out their work safely. For example, making sure you provide your employees with adequate PPE and training on how to use it. Failure to do so could result in your employees being seriously harmed.

The Health and Safety Executive reported that between March 2019 and April 2020 there were over 65,000 non-fatal injuries to employees reported by employers. It was also reported that 111 workers were killed due to fatal workplace accidents. These figures clearly illustrate that workplace accidents are a very real threat to workers.

If you don’t fulfil your duty of care then you are putting your employees in unnecessary danger and risk of getting prosecuted by the HSE, which in extreme circumstances could result in a fine of up to £20 million or imprisonment if found guilty of corporate manslaughter. But most importantly if an accident were to happen to an employee due to neglecting your duty of care, it could result in them being left with life-changing mental or physical conditions.

Lone workers are more at risk than those working in groups or with supervision for numerous reasons. The first reason being that if a lone worker were to have an accident it may be a while until they can get help as it’s more likely that there will not be another employee within immediate proximity to them. Even the smallest accidents can turn into something more serious if help is not easy to come by. Secondly, lone workers will not have the safety in numbers aspect of working in a group. This could prove especially hazardous when in public facing roles, as those working by themselves might be seen as easy targets for those that want to cause harm.

Lone workers can be exposed to several risks to both their physical and mental well-being depending on the environment they work in and the task at hand. Some examples of physical risks to lone workers include getting physically or verbally attacked or threatened, a risk that many in public facing roles will deal with. This has become significantly more common since the start of the coronavirus pandemic with workers facing increased amounts of aggression from customers when trying to enforce the new coronavirus regulations.

Slips, trips or falls which could result in serious injury, especially if the worker has fallen from a significant height. Musculoskeletal problems which could be a result of operating heavy machinery incorrectly or without adequate support. Health problems from unknown exposure to toxic atmospheres, traffic accidents going to or from work, or travelling for meetings. Complacency is also a risk factor that should be considered, as when an individual is comfortable in their role this can lead to mistakes being made. Some mistakes may be small whilst others may be more serious. Lone workers can be more likely to suffer from complacency than employees that work in the immediate vicinity of others. Without immediate supervision it is easy to let your mind wander whilst completing a job which can result in a mistake being made. With no immediate help at hand, you are more likely to be at risk of serious harm.

Workers are also more likely to put themselves at unnecessary risk of injury when working alone, particularly if they are required to make an on-the-spot safety decision. Without another person with an immediate proximity, lone workers don’t have anyone to ask for a second opinion to validate the decisions being made. This leaves them more susceptible to making the wrong decision that negatively impacts their personal safety.

Lone workers can also pose significant mental health risks due to spending so much time isolated from colleagues. This is an issue that has become even more prevalent in the last year, with increasing numbers of people working from home due to the pandemic. Spending excessive amounts of time alone has proven to have a devastating impact on people’s mental health, which has led to added stress, feelings of loneliness and even depression.

In a recent study carried out by the institute of employment studies on home worker well-being, 33% of people frequently felt isolated and 64% of respondents reported loss of sleep due to worry. It’s estimated that the effects of stress alone cost UK employers between £33 and £42 billion every year, so it’s worth trying to reduce the stress on your employees as much as possible.

Even though lone working comes with considerable risks, in some circumstances, it can be the best option. By having lone workers it means businesses and organisations have the ability to offer out more services to those in need. For instance, by sending a single health care professional to a property, means that more vulnerable people can be seen. However, not every job is suitable for a lone worker and they should only be used when the risks are manageable.

To help mitigate these risks there are steps both employers and employees alike can take. Firstly it is important to regularly re-examine the company’s health and safety policy to ensure it is up to date, ensure it is updated to include guidance around any new risks that may have come about. For example making sure there is guidance around wearing PPE because of COVID-19, conduct a risk assessment at least once a year to ensure that any new potential risks have been realised and guidance around these have been added to the health and safety policy.

If you employ a lone workers that aren’t office based, it would be beneficial to give them additional training. Public-facing lone workers would benefit from techniques to diffuse aggression and successfully resolve conflict. In addition, being able to conduct a dynamic risk assessment is an essential skill. This type of risk assessment is fluid and is done whilst working to identify the risks at present and the best steps on how to manage them.

As well as having an appropriate health and safety policy, it is important to have a lone worker policy in place. Your lone working policy should be a document that is accessible and easy to understand. Lone workers and their managers should be familiar with the document and its location. This policy should consider any potential risks to your lone workers and offer best practice guidance on how to deal with these situations, adding to this, it is also of equal importance that your lone workers are aware of the lone worker policy and are putting it into practice.

Having refresher training at least once a year will also go a long way to protecting your lone workers. Employees that have been working within your organisation for some time may have become complacent with the health and safety guidelines as they are so familiar with their role. This can bring more dangers as accidents are more likely to happen when people are complacent. Refresher training at least once a year will aid in reducing complacent behaviour and therefore, reduce the risk of accidents due to this state of mind. You may already supply your employees with PPE as required in their job role. Although essential, standard PPE cannot help a lone worker call for help in an emergency therefore, having additional smart PPE such as a personal safety device may be just as critical.

With a Peoplesafe personal safety device, if a lone worker is in a situation where they need assistance, they can discreetly press the SOS button to be connected to our Alarm Receiving Centre. Our Controllers will then listen in via the device’s two-way audio and assess the situation, if necessary they can send the emergency services to the employee’s exact location using the device’s built-in GPS and provide them with any additional information the user has recorded prior to the incident. Providing your employees with personal safety devices can help to keep them safe when they are required to work alone or in potentially hazardous environments. However, you must ensure that they know how to best use their device to meet their needs, such as leaving a pre-recorded voice message with information about their upcoming job or raising the alarm whenever they need to.

For more information on how to protect your workers from the wider health and safety risks they’re facing, the Peoplesafe website has lots of useful free resources you can download. Our risk assessment guide and lone worker policy template will give you in-depth advice on these areas and we also have a number of blog posts and infographics on a range of health and safety topics, including personal safety devices.

For more specialist advice relating to physical and mental well-being in the workplace please visit the HSE website where you can find a number of resources covering these topics. It’s also worth visiting the news section of the HSE website as this is continuously updated with health and safety guidance around coronavirus and the workplace.

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