Managing risks associated with lone working usually requires employers to take a different approach from the way they organise health and safety for other employees. The important thing to remember is that lone workers should not be put at more risk than other people working for you.
Lone working is not illegal and can often be done safely, however, the law does require employers to think about and deal with any health and safety risks before people are allowed to work alone. In this blog, we identify what lone working is and explain how to effectively assess and control risks associated with lone working.
What is Lone Working?
Lone workers are those who work by themselves without close or direct supervision. For example:
In fixed establishments:
- A person working alone in a small workshop, petrol station or shop.
- People who work from home other than in low-risk, office-type work.
- People working alone for long periods, eg in factories or warehouses.
- People working on their own outside normal hours, eg cleaners and security, maintenance or repair staff.
Remote or mobile workers:
- Maintenance worker.
- Sales and service workers (e.g. postal staff, social and medical workers, engineers, estate agents, and sales representatives visiting domestic and commercial premises).
Effective Risk Assessing
Most employers will understand that they have a duty to assess risks to lone workers and take steps to control risks where necessary. However, for this process to produce effective results it needs to be undertaken in a meaningful way. Listed below are some key drivers of an effective risk assessment process:
- Risk assess for the right reasons – Employers need to have a genuine desire to protect their staff from unacceptable risks associated with lone working. Risk assessing to simply meet an assumed legal duty should not be the motivating factor in the process. Although the employer may feel that they have met their legal requirement generic or overly simplistic risk assessments rarely have any impact on residual risk and often fail when placed under any legal scrutiny.
- Identify real hazards – Consult with staff, review activity and work environments to generate a list of real hazards relevant to the task. For example, just stating “lone working” as a hazard does not inform the risk assessment process. Whereas identifying that “being unable to raise the alarm in the event of verbal or physical threat” communicates a genuine and meaningful hazard associated with the task.
- Select suitable risk controls – Ensure that risk controls properly address the hazards identified. The starting point will always be to see if it is viable to eliminate the hazard. I.e. if an employee did not work alone, they would be less likely to be subject to verbal or physical threat or if it did happen a colleague would be on hand to raise the alarm. If this is not possible and lone working is considered unavoidable the employer needs to be able to demonstrate that the risk control (or package of risk controls) will genuinely reduce residual risk to an acceptable level. Using the example of the risk of physical or verbal threat, perhaps in the care sector when dealing with an unpredictable client, the employer might consider the use of mobile phones as a way of raising the alarm in the event of an incident. For this risk control to be effective the employer must be confident (and demonstrate if challenged) that the employee will always be able to implement the control e.g. will they always have a phone signal, will they always be able to get to their phone, dial a number, reach the right person, provide their location etc and will the person they are talking to know what to do. If the answer to this is yes, then the risk control will be deemed effective if not then a more robust risk control will be needed. For example, the use of personal safety devices that can be monitored, record conversations and even raise the alarm to a specific location at the touch of a button. For some employers this will be an essential risk control measure for others it will be an excessive response to the hazards identified. Essentially if a risk control demonstrably reduces residual risk down to an acceptable level it will be deemed suitable.
- What is everyone else in our sector doing? – When arriving at a suitable package of risk controls the employer must consider technological advances and industry standards. If a particular risk control is standard amongst our peer group why are we not doing the same
- Communicate – Ensure that all persons who could be affected are consulted on any concerns, are invited to input into the risk assessment process and are provided with adequate information, instruction and training about the findings of the risk assessment and the risk controls that must be followed.
- Don’t aim for perfection – Effective health and safety management is not about removing all risk. A risk assessment will be deemed suitable and sufficient if it:
- Identifies reasonably foreseeable risks.
- Controls those risks as far as is reasonably practicable.
- Is communicated and understood by all persons who could be affected.
- Is periodically reviewed and improved where required.
For pragmatic advice and solutions on the development of any aspect of your system to effectively manage health and safety please do not hesitate to contact us.
For more information, contact our health & safety consultants on 0330 113 0925 or visit our website https://adastrahr.co.uk/our-services/health-safety-consultants/