Health and Safety: Staying safe as a lone worker

English: Risk management sub processes

Risk Management

Today I’ve decided to move away from my usual offerings of opinion and social observation. In this post I’m actually going to talk about Health & Safety for a change; an issue that forms part of the work I’m actually in business to do…

I can hear the cry already – “Oh no, not Elf-n-Safety” but before I continue – “Don’t panic, keep calm and carry on” – Health & Safety is NOT the onerous task  that our media would have us believe (see here). Neither is it a ‘Monster’ as suggested recently in a speech – Reducing the burden and impact of health and safety – made by our Prime Minister David Cameron (see video).

Much of this ‘fear’ has come from misinterpretation and/or poor application of health & safety guidance over recent years which in turn, has led to a large quantity of Health & Safety Myths. The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) continue to put the record straight but that’s another story for another time.

Health and safety and successful business or organisation performance are complementary. Good leaders look after their businesses/organisations, and manage skilled workforces who have confidence in them…(hse.gov.uk)

Now on to the main subject of this post. Last week my wife started a new job as a support worker with a local housing association. The work involves visiting various domestic properties, along with some assisted living complexes throughout the area. Eventually after training, many of these visits will be made alone and a fair proportion of them will also be made during the night.

It is estimated that 6.8 million people are lone workers, that is 22% of the 31.2m UK working population. They spend periods of their day outside of direct contact or supervision of their colleagues and management…(Peoplesafe)

There haven’t been any problems with my wife’s work so far and hopefully, there won’t be any in the future however; the ‘risk’ potential is there and it’s this which served to galvanise my thoughts about Lone Worker safety.

Most large organisations usually have a good grasp of Health & Safety and the management of risk however; as with many organisations today, especially in the current economic climate, there is a danger of making management decisions based mainly upon financial considerations.  So far, I have to say, I have no reason to believe that my wife’s new employer doesn’t understand the legal/financial implications of non compliance with Health & Safety legislation.

As with the majority of occupational safety legislation in the UK, there are legal implications both for the employee (my wife) and for her employer (the housing association), who owe her (and her colleagues) a statutory duty of care by virtue of The Health & Safety at Work Act 1974.

It is an employer’s duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of their employees and other people who might be affected by their business. Employers must do whatever is reasonably practicable to achieve this…(hse.gov.uk)

And that means all employees, be they on or off the employer’s premises whilst working. Let me start by debunking the common misconception, mostly held by workers as opposed to their employers; it is not illegal for a person be left alone at their place of work, there are no absolute restrictions on working alone per se. The legal implications relate to an employers responsiblity for Health & Safety management and more importantly, how that employer actually identifies the hazards and manages the risks faced by their workers.

To do this correctly and effectively they need to think about what, in their business, might cause harm to people and decide whether they are doing enough to prevent that harm. This is known as a risk assessment. Once the ‘risks’ have been identified, they need to decide how to control them and put the appropriate measures in place to mitigate those risks. (See HSE: Health & Safety Made Simple)

The importance of risk assessments and manual handling training have been highlighted by a £90,000 payout to a care worker who was injured when a client fell on her…(hrzone.co.uk)

All lone workers are under the responsibility of their employers during working hours, and the environment in which they work must be as safe as it can be. Employers have to accept responsibility for lone worker safety whether they are in the office, on the shop floor, in a vehicle, in the street or when they knock on someones door to make a home visit.

As already outlined, there is no general legal prohibition on working alone, but the broad duties of the relevant Health & Safety legislation still apply. These require identifying hazards of the work, assessing the risks involved, and putting measures in place to avoid or control the risks.

Control measures may include instruction, training, supervision, protective equipment etc. Employers should take steps to check that control measures are used and review the risk assessment from time to time to ensure it is still adequate.

When risk assessment shows that it is not possible for the work to be done safely by a lone worker, arrangements for providing help or back-up should be put in place. Where a lone worker is working at another employer’s workplace, that employer should inform the lone worker’s employer of any risks and the control measures that should be taken. This helps the lone worker’s employer to assess the risks.

Lone workers should not be at more risk than other employees. This may require extra risk-control measures. Precautions should take account of normal work and foreseeable emergencies, e.g. fire, equipment failure, illness and accidents. Employers should identify situations where people work alone and ask questions such as:

  • Does the workplace present a special risk to the lone worker?
  • Is there a safe way in and a way out for one person? Can any temporary access equipment which is necessary, such as portable ladders or trestles, be safely handled by one person?
  • Can all the plant, substances and goods involved in the work be safely handled by one person?
  • Is there a risk of violence? (See HSE statistics also)
  • Are women especially at risk if they work alone?
  • Are young workers especially at risk if they work alone?
  • Is the person medically fit and suitable to work alone?
  • What happens if the person becomes ill, has an accident or there is an emergency?

Getting back to my wife’s new job, which was the catalyst for this post; social support, like community nursing and social work, is a type of work which presents the possibility of violence. There are also others which perhaps we wouldn’t necessarily expect.

In 1986 Suzy Lamplugh, a 25-year-old estate agent disappeared after she went to meet an unknown client.. Personal safety training is one of the most effective ways of reducing the risk of violent and aggressive incidents occurring in the workplace…(Suzy Lamplugh Trust)

Although a large proportion of those being supported by the housing association my wife works for are elderly and/or infirm, there are also others who have mental health issues. They may well be physically able-bodied but still require support, to live as independently as possible within the community.

HSE Work-Related Violence (Lone Workers): Occupational group is the factor which is most strongly associated with the risk of assaults at work (Budd, 1999). However, exposure to violence at work not only depends on a person’s occupation but also upon the circumstances and situations under which a person performs their job. Working alone, for example, increases the vulnerability of workers (Chappell & Di Martino, 2000.)

The HSE case studies relating to work-related violence went on to say; “Lone work does not automatically imply a higher risk of violence, but it is generally understood that working alone does increase the vulnerability of workers.” Obviously any increased vulnerability will also depend on the type of situation in which the lone work is being carried out. (See also the HSE Work-Related Violence – Lone workers case study summary of key points.

The number of violent incidents at work shows a downward trend over the last decade, with incidents remaining fairly constant over the last five years…(hse.gov.uk)

These HSE case studies on work-related violence for lone workers concluded that; “whatever the size, location or nature of the organisation, there are many simple, practical and cost-effective measures which employers can use to help prevent and manage the risk of violence to lone workers. In particular, they show that effective measures do not have to be expensive. The most effective solutions usually arise from the way the business is run, such as staff training, job design and changes to the physical environment. High technology and high cost security equipment will normally only be needed where there is a particularly high risk of violence” (see here).

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About Dave Hasney

National Coordinator for UK SMART Recovery - Previously a Recovery Worker and prior to that a Management Consultant and H&S Practitioner - Kept sane by Angling, Good Food, Real Ale & Wine - Cynical thoughts sometimes developed from others.

Posted on 19-02-2012, in Business Babble, Leadership & Management and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Many lone workers are experiencing emotional and physical abuse everyday.Employers are the one’s responsible in the safety and security of their lone workers and not to harm them.The use of lone worker devices are helpful.I learned a lot from your post.Thanks.

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