Lone worker protection is understandably thought of by many as just a small part of an organisation’s health and safety efforts, referring as it does to only one part of the workforce.
But if recent times have taught us anything, it is that remote and lone working is not going anywhere. Lone workers have been a valuable part of the workforce for many decades (and much longer before that), but before 2020 it could be argued that they had been largely invisible to society on the whole.
Lone workers are our cleaners, the people constructing our buildings, those working late nights at factories, those growing and manufacturing our food and - really - anyone who must work without the support of colleagues and managers around them all day.
In short, lone workers can often be classed as essential workers, and they rely on employers’ efforts to protect their wellbeing while on the job. This includes everything from the availability of the correct PPE to regular training and mental health support being made available to them.
The potential for isolation and the dangers that come with it is why lone worker protection should be something that every business leader pushes to the top of their to-do list.
Why do lone workers need protection?
There are an estimated 8 million people across the UK who could come under the ‘lone worker’ umbrella. While many of the same health and safety rules apply to these workers as do to their colleagues, it is essential to understand the key differences.
Lone worker roles are wide and varied, but some of the most common kinds are:
- Agricultural workers
- Construction workers
- Factory workers
- Delivery drivers
- Healthcare workers
- And many, many more…
This section of the workforce is exposed to dangers that others are not. They are also more at risk if injured, struck with a sudden illness or attacked because there is often no one else around to call for assistance.
Tools such as lone worker alarms can help solve this problem, allowing the user to discreetly call for help or detecting when someone has fallen and may have become incapacitated.
Employers are under a legal obligation to protect their employees in any way that they can. This means that they must work to identify, mitigate and (where possible) remove risks posed to their workers, as well as record these processes.
If your company has five or more employees, then this should take the form of a written lone worker policy. It can be part of a broader health and safety policy or a standalone document, but, either way, it should be made available to everyone across the business.
How often should you refresh your health and safety policy?
Once you have a robust health and safety policy that also covers your lone workers, then you will need to update it regularly.
The HSE recommends that this is done at least once a year but, the more frequently it is reviewed and adapted to changing workplace circumstances, the better.
This is because an out-of-date policy can spell danger for people at every level of the business, and employers may be liable should something happen that was not addressed in the latest version of the document.
Examples of times when you should review your policy include:
- When there has been a significant change to working practices (e.g. in during the 2020 pandemic when workers were asked to operate remotely)
- If your main office changes location
- When a new team is appointed, or a new project is begun
- If new equipment starts to be used
- After an incident or near-miss as taken place
The final example refers to situations where an accident has actually occurred - whether that is because of something overlooked in a previous lone worker protection assessment or something that could not have been avoided.
No matter the reason, a new risk assessment should be conducted right away to include the circumstances that led to the incident. Speak with the employee or employees involved, and determine how it can be avoided in the future.
Lone workers in 2021 and beyond
If your lone workers are not already a significant feature of your health and safety efforts, then now is the time to change that. Many things can be implemented to help businesses to achieve this goal.
If you have a workforce management system in place, for example, then you should use the data in conjunction with anecdotal evidence collected from speaking with employees. With this, you can craft an actionable risk assessment that will then be simple to convert into a policy reflective of the day-to-day experience of your employees.
Dedicating space in your health and safety plans to lone workers and their specific requirements could also make it easier to implement a dynamic risk assessment strategy for employees who often find themselves in high-risk situations.
This involves these workers assessing risk on the scene and reacting immediately to a potentially hazardous situation. Without a detailed risk assessment conducted beforehand, this would be much more difficult to do.
The number of lone workers operating across the UK is understood to be growing under the current social distancing measures. This is why it is being recommended now more than ever to review safety measures and bring them in line with our current ways of working the new dangers that all of us face.
We are all grappling with new and heightened challenges right now, but ensuring that the basics of lone worker protection, health and safety and other business practices are taken care of can empower organisations to succeed in 2021 and far beyond.
How can we help?
At Vatix, we specialise in helping businesses to identify ways in which they can protect their workers, lone or otherwise. If you would like to speak with one of our experts about how we can help you, click here or call us on 020 3820 1857.