Alone but safe – how can employers protect their lone workers?

It is estimated that up to eight million people in the UK are lone workers.[1] With a lack of direct supervision and on-hand assistance if something goes wrong, lone workers are inevitably exposed to greater risks of harm. How can employers reduce the risks posed to lone workers to ensure their compliance with Health and Safety Law and more importantly, keep their lone workers safe and healthy?

What is a ‘lone worker’?

In March 2020, when Covid-19 restriction regulations were introduced, the Health and Safety Executive (“HSE”) published timely updated guidance for employers regarding lone workers: INDG73: Protecting lone workers: How to manage the risks of working alone'.The guidance classifies a lone worker as “someone who works on their own or without any close supervision”. It is important to note that a worker does not have to be physically alone at all times during the working day to fall into this definition. They may simply be carrying out a task during part of the day in another section of a building, where they cannot be seen or heard.

Some typical examples of lone workers include warehouse workers, surveyors, electricians, engineers, cleaners, community healthcare workers and enforcement and inspection officers. Many of those with desk jobs who now choose to work from the comfort of their own home are also considered to be working alone. Therefore, it is likely that the number of lone workers will continue to rise as more people continue to adopt hybrid working patterns following the Covid-19 Pandemic.

The Law

There is a duty imposed on employers under The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (“The HSWA”) to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all employees. Although lone workers may experience many of the same risks posed to those who work amongst others, there are additional risk factors which employers need to consider given the absence of the same immediate assistance and support available to other workers.

Common risks and how to manage them:

The HSE has identified key risks that particularly affect lone workers. These include work-related abuse and violence (especially during unsociable work hours), stress, mental health and wellbeing considerations, rural and isolated work locations and the medical suitability of a person to work alone.

Employers need to be aware of the increased Health and Safety risks that lone workers are exposed to and should adopt appropriate measures to mitigate them. In particular, enhanced training should be provided to lone workers to ensure they can identify, understand and control particular risks effectively when faced with handling them alone.

Employers must also determine the level of appropriate supervision or support that a lone worker requires, by implementing a robust risk management assessment which is based on the specific risks involved with their occupation and their ability to identify and handle potential hazards. There are various high-risk scenarios that call for greater supervision and support, for example, working in a confined space where rescue may be necessary. Suitable and sufficient risk assessments are essential to eliminate or mitigate these risks to an acceptable level.

Keeping in touch with and monitoring lone workers is vital. Employers should adopt appropriate systems and procedures which set out when lone workers should be visited or observed, allow lone workers to be located and contacted regularly, enable lone workers to raise an alarm when things go wrong and record when lone workers have safely returned to their base.

Emerging Technologies

The world of risk management is changing at a pace likely never seen in the 48 years since the enactment of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and this is largely attributable to the range of technological solutions available to organisations which provide new ways of work and new ways to manage risks. Various technological solutions are available which can enable a lone worker to check in with their employer, share their location and raise an alarm in an emergency situation. But whilst it is right for organisations to identify appropriate solutions, employers must recognise that these are no substitute for established risk management systems, but rather such technologies must be embedded into organisations’ safe systems of work. Effective planning for managing safety means employers should also be giving early consideration to the benefits of emerging technologies which can operate alongside workers to reduce them being placed at risk. Proper investment plans for the adoption of such solutions will mitigate the exposure to risks in the future and the far greater costs and reputational damage that inevitably result from serious health and safety incidents.

If you would like more information in relation to this or any regulatory risk topic  please contact our Business Risk and Regulation team for specialist legal advice.


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