Many UK organisations have employees required to perform duties or activities without supervision or team members present to assist or support them. This is known as lone working, and it can put employees in danger or increase their risk of injury during emergencies.
With an estimated 8 million lone workers in the UK workforce, it is important for employers and employees to employ lone working safety best practices.
The first step of lone working safety is being aware of the hazards that lone workers face. Awareness allows both employers and employees to make adequate preparation to uphold the highest safety standards that can protect a lone worker.
In this article, we will list the main hazards causing incidents in the workplace along with how commonly it occurs in the UK to help you become aware of the dangers your lone workers face.
According to HSE latest provisional 2019/2020 report:
The most common kinds of accidents reported under RIDDOR 2019/2020 are:
Lone workers face these same hazards. However, the risks of injury are higher for them because there isn’t a supervisor or team member around to assist or even know they are in danger. This makes it even more important to understand the hazards in more detail so you can take measures to mitigate the risks and keep your lone workers as safe as possible.
Slip, trip, or falls are the most common types of accidents yet are often simple and cost-effective to prevent if you identify and mitigate the hazards properly. Since so many factors can cause a slip, trip, or fall, it can be tricky to identify all possible hazards. The following guideline can help you.
Handling, lifting, or carrying can lead to both immediate injury or long-term musculoskeletal disorders. Manual handling risks can happen in various workplace environments, such as working on farms, building sites, offices, and making deliveries.
Being struck by moving objects include things such as knives or any object falling from height. According to HSE reports, around 700 cases of being struck by moving objects are reported every year in the UK, of which around 100 cases cause major injuries.
Best practices to reduce the risks:
The HSE defines acts of violence as ‘any incident in which a person is abused, threatened or assaulted in circumstances relating to their work. Lone workers who are most at risk for acts of violence are those who are engaged in:
According to a 2003 HSE research report, the most common causes of falls from height according to various industries are:
|Industry||Typical causes of falls from height|
|Agriculture||- Roofs – through holes, fragile materials or roof lights
- Roofs – during erection
- Roofs – through holes, fragile materials or roof lights
- Scaffolding – collapse of
- Scaffolding – falls from
|Extraction and utility supply||- Excavations
- Lattice towers / pylons
|Manufacturing||- Forklift – from forks or working platform
- Machinery / plant
- Warehouse racking
|Services||- Window cleaning
- Lorries during loading or unloading
According to HSE latest provisional 2019/2020 report:
The top three industries most vulnerable to fatal injuries at work are construction, agriculture, forestry and fishing, and manufacturing. The following chart gives a full breakdown of the fatal injuries at work according to industry.
According to HSE’s full report, ‘Workplace Fatal Injuries in Great Britain, 2020’, the construction industry has the highest number of fatal injuries. However, agriculture, forestry and fishing and waste and recycling have the worst rates of fatal injuries per 100,000 workers, with a rate that is 18 times higher than the average across all industries.
Another industry vulnerable to fatal injuries is the transportation and storage sector, whose fatal injury rate per 100,000 workers is almost double the average rate across all industries.
Industries with a relatively low risk of fatal injuries, accounting for around one-third of the total average rate, are wholesale, retail, motor repair, accommodation and food services. However, different sector activities can still pose higher risks and employers in every industry must still take preventive action to avoid accidents as best as possible.
The rate of fatal injuries also increases with higher age groups, showing that older workers across all industries are more vulnerable.
Here is a breakdown of fatal injuries in the workplace according to age that were reported between 2015/16-2019/2020.
The causes behind the fatal accidents at work reported in 2019/2020 are:
These accidents were not limited to lone workers. However, lone workers face the same hazards with higher risks because they are working alone.
Since ‘falls from a height’ and ‘being struck by a moving object’ has been covered in the previous section, we will cover the other causes reported in and before 2019/2020.
Employees, including lone workers, are also at risk of other long-term related illnesses which are not immediate injuries caused by a workplace accident. In their provisional 2019/2020 report, HSE reported the following work-related illnesses:
These estimates are based on self-reports from the Labour Force Survey from people who worked in the last 12 months.
Additionally, HSE reports fatalities from disease linked to working environments:
Employees who work in public administration and defence, human health and social work and education have statistically significantly higher risks of long-term ill health rates than other industries.
Workplace injuries and work-related illnesses take a toll on all parties; the employer, the employee, and the government. Here’s a glimpse at what accidents, injuries, and illnesses have cost the UK, according to HSE’s summary statistics for Great Britain 2020 report.
From this, it’s clear that lowering the risks of hazards in the workplace will not just protect your employees and lone workers. It can also protect businesses from lost working days and medical costs.
In summary, lone workers are exposed to the same hazards as other workers, except they face a higher risk of injury because they are alone. They require specialised attention instead of blanket health and safety policies designed for the general worker.
As HSE reports show, each working environment has its own unique set of hazards that lone workers can be exposed to. While some industries are more prone to certain dangers than others and thus require special attention, relying on the industry average is by no means a way to evaluate all the hazards your lone workers could face.
The best way to determine the exact hazards your lone workers are exposed to is by conducting a thorough lone working risk assessment and then creating a custom risk mitigation plan.
Here are some general best practices that you can include in your risk mitigation plan to minimise the most common hazards of lone working:
By taking these proactive steps, you can help prevent serious and life-threatening injuries in the workplace. To get a better idea of effective solutions to protect your lone workers, download our free guide, “The Ultimate Guide to Lone Working Safety”.