Lone workers can face risks those in an office environment may not even think about. In the article below, Walter Brennan explains how to effectively evaluate and carry out a lone worker risk assessment.
As with any other form of work, employers are expected to undertake a risk assessment before employees are allowed to work alone. In the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) guidance document Working alone, a lone worker is defined as someone who works by themselves without close or direct supervision.
Lone workers include those who:
Section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 places a legal responsibility on employers to:
- work from a fixed base, such as one person working alone on a premises – for example, shops and petrol stations;
- work separately from others on the same premises – for example, security staff – or work outside normal hours;
- work away from a fixed base – for example, maintenance workers, healthcare workers, environment inspectors, agricultural and forestry workers and those working in enclosed spaces;
- work at home; and
- mobile workers – for example, taxi drivers.
- prepare a written health and safety policy and bring it to the attention of employees;
- provide safe systems of work;
- provide a safe working environment for employees; and
- provide information, instruction training and supervision.
- The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, made under the Health and Safety at Work Act, are more specific and explicit to employers.
The law and lone working
Corporate manslaughter conviction
In February 2011, legal history was made when a company was found guilty of corporate manslaughter relating to an employee’s death. It was the first prosecution under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 and the company was fined £385,000.
Employees working alone should at all times be at no greater risk than other employees. It is an employer’s duty to assess risks to employees and take steps to avoid or control the risks.
Risk assessments and action plans aim to make good health and safety management more proactive than the traditional reactive approach. They need to reflect how hazards can change based upon various factors, such as perception, experience, location, time of day, the nature of the work being carried out and whether or not the employee is regarded as a lone worker.
It is therefore crucial that risk assessments are communicated, understood and reviewed by all parties involved regularly.
The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 clarifies the criminal liabilities of companies, including large organisations where serious failures in the management of health and safety result in a fatality.
The HSE introduced a simple five-step risk assessment, which is illustrated below, to help employers establish the risk from a corporate perspective.
1. Identify the hazards
As a first step, you should identify any possible hazards by examining:the nature of the job;
- the type of clients or customers the employee may work with or may encounter;
- the places, locations, times and environments that are relevant;
- the views of the staff; and
- incident reports, including any near misses.
2. Decide who might be harmed and how
Next, think about:which staff and types of employees might be harmed?
- what type of injury or ill health might occur – for example, through violence if employees are attacked;
- through hostage taking or false imprisonment; or by doing something against the customer’s wishes?
3. Evaluate the risks and decide on precautions
In this third step, you should:
- decide whether the existing precautions are adequate or more should be done;
- whether or not the risks are low or acceptable;
- establish if there are systems in place aimed at eliminating or reducing the risk, and whether or not you have clear risk assessments;
- find out if staff have skills in defusing situations;
- discover if your company has a clear policy, procedure and guidelines for visiting or dealing with clients while alone;
- find out if there is a clear audit trail to ensure colleagues know the whereabouts of an employee in the event of non-return to the office or reporting back to head office; and
- establish if staff have personal alarms, mobile telephones or mobile panic alarms (electronic ID badges) that can alert the employer to the employee’s location.
4. Record your findings and implement them
At this stage, you should:
- complete a risk assessment
- design an action plan
- communicate the information to employees
5. Review your assessment and update if necessary
Step five ensures you keep your action plan up to date by:
- reviewing the plan on a regular basis, but at least once a year;
- changing and amending the plan as required; and
- ensuring the action plan is completed and implemented.
The HSE does not have a recommended risk assessment for lone workers facing specific hazards, so once the risk assessment is completed it is necessary to consider an action plan for the safety of lone workers. Here are some specific pointers:
Ensure the lone worker policy is relevant and that all workers know about it.
Where lone workers are visiting people, ensure any referral is risk assessed before each visit.
Where necessary, provide staff training in:
- risk assessment;
- defusion/de-escalation skills;
- breakaway/disengagement techniques; and
- first aid training and dealing with an emergency.
- Develop an audit trail so staff can monitor lone worker locations.
- Consider providing mobile telephones, panic alarms and/or an electronic ID alert to lone workers.
- Provide personal protective equipment and clothing where the risk assessment has identified these as being required.
- Consider if the premises to be visited are secure and alarmed.
- Rapid risk assessment
In a bid to try to predict the hazard of violence to lone workers visiting customers, clients or even colleagues, there are a number of fundamental questions that need to be asked in a risk assessment from an organisational perspective. These are:
- Do workers understand the rationale for having to undertake a risk assessment?
- Do workers actually comply with the completion of the risk assessment?
- Is the risk assessment process designed to be easy and user friendly?
- Does the risk assessment process combine individual and health and safety issues?
- Does it fit on one side of A4 paper or can it be easily computerised?
- Does it use a basic traffic-light scoring system?
- Can it be accessed easily?
- Ten-point assessment tool
Risk assessment enables hazards to be quantified and managed more effectively. But it is important that the risk assessment does what it is meant to do – predict the likelihood of injury and make employees amend their behaviour accordingly. While some aspects of lone working are inherently high risk, the failure to put systems in place to reduce recognised risk could leave employers open to charges of negligence and costly litigation.
- Health and Safety Executive (2009).
- Working alone.Health and Safety Executive. Corporate Manslaughter FAQs.
- Crown Prosecution Service (2012). Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings convicted of first corporate manslaughter charge under new act.