Around 8 million people in the UK are classified as lone workers and exposed to variety of risks that need to be assessed and mitigated against if their safety is to be assured, so far as it is reasonably practicable to do so. Employers have a Duty of Care to each and everyone of their employees and additional measures must be taken if this obligation is to extend to lone workers. Here, we provide an extensive lone worker risk assessment checklist to help ensure you’re doing everything you can.
Definition of a lone worker
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) define a lone worker as ‘those who work by themselves without close or direct supervision.’ This doesn’t necessarily mean that they work in isolation, but that they do not work in a team or with a manager. For instance, an employee could be surrounded by the general public all day, but will still be considered a lone worker if they’re not operating in a team or under supervision.
However, there is some debate surrounding this definition, as some employees who do work in a small team are exposed to many of the same risks faced by lone workers. For instance, small teams of waste collectors have to deal with a similar set of risks to lone workers. This includes the threat of physical or verbal abuse or injury.
Risk assessment & consultation
Having identified those individuals who are defined as lone workers in their organisation, managers have a duty to carry out thorough risk assessments and implement relevant safety policies. In most cases, the risks to a lone worker are very different to those working with supervision or in numbers. This needs to be taken into consideration when carrying out the risk assessment.
Employers must be aware of a variety of factors that are unique to the circumstances faced by lone workers. These include;
- Equipment – is there any equipment that a single employee may have difficulty handling or operating on their own? Would the lone worker be in danger if equipment failed?
- Emergency exit – in case of an emergency (eg. fire), does the lone worker have a suitable emergency exit? Will the emergency exit and protocols be affected by the employee working independently (if the rest of the premises is locked up, for example)?
- Hazardous materials – is the lone worker interacting with any hazardous substances, such as chemicals or highly flammable materials? If so, how does this affect their safety?
- Personal safety concerns – is the lone worker put into any potentially dangerous situations by which their safety is threatened by the actions of other individuals who may exhibit coercive, violent or aggressive behaviour?
- Communication – is there a clear channel of communication for lone workers looking to raise concerns or escalate problems? If the employee does not speak English as a first language, are they comfortable in communicating potential issues?
- Vulnerable individuals – is the lone worker more vulnerable than others would be in similar circumstances (eg. because they’re elderly, pregnant or have a disability)?
These issues need to be considered alongside other health and safety factors, such as the protocols for an accident, fire or illness. While relevant lone worker safety concerns will differ from job to job and between industries, those listed above provide a basic framework from which a comprehensive risk assessment can be designed. Throughout this process, it’s vital that employers work and consult closely with employees to ensure they fully understand the conditions particular to each role.
Training plays an important role in preparing employees for independent and unsupervised work. Whereas individuals operating in a shared workspace are able to look to more experienced team members for advice and assistance, lone workers do not have this privilege. Consequently, they need to be made aware of potential risks and given the tools and expertise to deal with them confidently.
Additional training can assist in this regard by providing lone workers with solutions to common problems, giving them the confidence to respond to issues in a calm and cool-headed manner, and by setting clear boundaries. This last point is particularly important, as an employer should always delineate well-defined limitations to the work a lone worker can and cannot perform. This can drastically reduce the likelihood of a workplace incident by eliminating the grey area in which many accidents occur and making it clear as to when a lone worker should request guidance or assistance.
Supervision & monitoring
In situations where there is deemed to be some risk to a lone worker, measures should be taken to ensure they are provided supervision or monitoring. This can take many forms, but should be directly proportional to the level of risk faced by a lone worker. The higher the risk, the greater the supervision or monitoring.
While supervision generally involves the presence of an experienced and knowledgeable employee to oversee the work, monitoring can mean a variety of things. In many cases, it will mean integrating new technologies into the workplace. For instance, following an increase in abusive and threatening behaviour towards recycling workers on their rounds, Oxfordshire County Council introduced body cameras for their workers. Not only does this ensure all incidents are recorded so action may be taken at a later date, the cameras also act as a powerful deterrent against such behaviour.
Similarly, apps and digital systems, like Inform’s Crisys technology, provide lone workers with a 24/7 monitoring system that offers support in a number of different ways. By introducing such technology, lone workers are able to access immediate assistance if there is an incident, record their movements, schedule safety calls, and report problems.
Though technology has an important role to play in ensuring lone worker safety, monitoring safety levels, and raising the alarm, human actors do too. A monitoring system could also involve regular check-ups on a lone worker by a supervisor, routine communications with a supervisor, or a requirement that lone workers ‘check-out’ at the end of their shift or upon returning home.
Finally, lone workers should be made aware of all the established emergency procedures relevant to their role. Information should be provided as to what to do in case of fire, accident or injury, and the necessary safety equipment should be accessible and regularly tested. Employers have a legal Duty of Care towards their employees, and rigorous safety measure and procedures go some way to fulfilling that obligation.
While the precise measures taken to protect lone workers will vary from role to role, it’s vital for employers to carefully consider their safety above and beyond what is expected of a typical shared workspace. This means consulting with those currently in the role, carrying out an exhaustive risk assessment, and understanding the specific circumstances in which each lone worker operates. Solutions to safety issues will differ drastically depending on the business, but adequate safety, supervisory and monitoring measures must be implemented if an employer is to meet their legal obligation to employees.
Have a question or want further information? Our expert team have been providing lone worker solutions for over 20 years. Call us on 01344 706111 or drop us a line.