Lone workers in the UK: Legislation and guidelines for employers
In the UK, the main pieces of legislation addressing occupational health and safety are the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 with its later amendments and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.
Additionally, there are laws that regulate the reporting of workplace accidents and injuries known as RIDDOR or Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations, which allow the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to keep track of accident trends, identify patterns and risks as well as to conduct investigations on compliance breaches.
UK Employers are required by law to protect all of their employees, including contractors and self-employed workers. They must do an assessment of the health and safety risks of every work-related activity, and the issues that need to be considered for lone and remote workers can be markedly different from those for regular employees.
According to the HSE, lone workers are “those who work by themselves without close or direct supervision”. Some examples include:
- Employees who work alone in a petrol station, workshop, shop or kiosk;
- Employees who work from home;
- Employees who have tasks that involve working alone for long periods of time (for example, in a factory or a warehouse);
- Service workers such as postal staff;
- Service representative whose work involves visiting domestic and commercial premises.
Lone workers are exposed to many of the same risks as other workers, but they may not have someone to help them if something goes wrong. It’s the employer’s responsibility to keep them safe and provide them with training, support and supervision. If one neglects this responsibility and it leads to accidents or injuries, employees are entitled to sue empoyers and claim compensation. Employers can also expect an investigation and sanctions from the HSE.
It’s critical to have a solid policy in place that clearly defines a company’s protocols regarding lone working, including risk assessment, company rules, procedures and job roles. Employers will also want to cultivate a company culture that prioritises health and safety.
Risk assessment and management
As previously mentioned, the employer is responsible for the health and safety of all workers, including contractors, volunteers and self-employed persons. These responsibilities cannot be delegated to anybody else, such as the lone workers themselves.
Although lone working is usually safe, UK law requires employers to consider and address any potential health and safety hazards before allowing people to start working. The following are some factors to consider when ensuring that lone employees are not put at risk:
- Assessing whether the working environment presents risks and if the individual is medically eligible for lone working;
- Assessing the risk that comes with specific activities such as manual handling of heavy loads or using dangerous equipment;
- Criteria for training and experience, as well as the appropriate ways to monitor and manage lone workers;
- Having a system in place that allows the employer or a supervisor to maintain communication with lone workers and respond to any incidents.
Conducting a separate risk assessment for lone workers is not required by law, but employers do have to consider the risks specific to lone working and include them in their general risk assessment. They must also take measures to prevent and mitigate these risks such as:
- Including workers in the evaluation of potential risks and mitigation strategies;
- Taking steps to eliminate hazards whenever possible, or putting in place control mechanisms, such as carefully selecting work equipment to make sure that the workers can complete their tasks safely;
- Providing instructions, training and supervision;
- Evaluating risk assessments on a regular basis and updating them when significant changes occur.
The risk assessment will determine the appropriate level of supervision for lone workers. Some high-risk activities may necessitate the presence of at least one other person – for example, working in confined spaces, in close proximity to live electricity conductors, fumigation or work involving explosives.
The employer should establish emergency procedures for lone workers and provide them with training, so they know what to do if they have an accident or get injured on the job. The workers will need THE opportunity to practice what they learn during their training so they can apply these skills quickly and effectively.
The training on emergency procedures should include when and how they should contact their supervisors and employers as well as how to administer first aid to themselves.
Lone working can have a negative impact on mental health since the relationships people form with their managers and coworkers can reduce stress. Working alone means the employee doesn’t get as much support.
To mitigate this aspect, the employer needs to have policies in place that facilitate direct communication between lone workers and managers. Without this, lone workers may start to feel disconnected and isolated, which will increase their stress levels, mental health risks and negatively affect their performance.
Managing mental health risks also depends on supervisors being able to recognise signs of distress.
The employer will need to assess mental health risks and take measures to reduce or eliminate them. They also need to make reasonable adjustments for lone workers with pre-existing mental health conditions as per the Equality Act 2010.
Workplace issues can aggravate symptoms of pre-existing mental health conditions, and whether work is the cause of the problem or simply an aggravating factor, it’s the employer’s legal duty to help their employees.
Workers also have a responsibility to look after their own health and safety, as well as the health and safety of those who may be affected by their work.
They should speak to their employer, manager/supervisor, or a health and safety representative if they have specific questions or concerns.
Some companies conduct dynamic risk assessments where the workers themselves make operational decisions to mitigate risks that are difficult to predict, but this is not a replacement for a thorough risk assessment.
When a risk assessment reveals situations in which a lone worker may be required to do a dynamic risk assessment, the lone worker must be provided with training on how to conduct the assessment, consider the various control options and best course of action, and lastly, they need to get support for their decisions.
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