The UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) defines lone workers as “those who work by themselves without close or direct supervision”.
What is the HSE?
The HSE (sponsored by the Department for Work and Pensions) is the body responsible for the encouragement, regulation and enforcement of workplace health, safety and welfare risks in England and Wales and Scotland.
HSE guidance advises employers to assess the risks associated with lone working, provide training and ensure there are systems in place to monitor their lone workers. HSE also place emphasis on the importance of maintaining regular contact with lone workers and providing them with a way to signal for help. They have produced materials for employers of lone workers, (HSE guide to lone working) identifying their legal responsibilities. Within the guide the HSE recommends the implementation of monitoring procedures that include check-ins at pre-agreed intervals with workers.
Monitoring Procedures for Lone Workers
Monitoring Procedures that can be put in place to monitor lone workers (as an effective means of communication) could include:
■ supervisors periodically visiting and observing people working alone;
■ pre-agreed intervals of regular contact between the lone worker and supervisor, using phones, radios or email, bearing in mind the worker’s understanding of English;
■ manually operated or automatic warning devices which trigger if specific signals are not received periodically from the lone worker, eg staff security systems;
■ implementing robust systems to ensure a lone worker has returned to their base or home once their task is completed.
Lone Worker Legislation
There are no lone worker specific policies in the U.K, however, the main legislation covering occupational health and safety are the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, together with later amendments, and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.
Employers are required under these regulations to assess risks in the workplace and take preventative measures when risks are identified. The legislation recognises that common sense and adequate management practices should lead employers toward reasonable safety policies, even without lone worker-specific legislation.
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 sets out the general duties of employers and employees to their own and each other’s safety. These duties are qualified in the Act by the principle of ‘so far as is reasonably practicable’. Therefore, an employer does not have to take measures to avoid or reduce the risk if they are technically impossible or if the time, trouble or cost of the measures would be grossly disproportionate to the risk. What the law requires employers to look at what the risks are and take sensible measures to prevent them.
The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999: requires employers in consultation with employees to carry out risk assessments, make arrangements to implement necessary measures, appoint competent people and arrange for appropriate information and training. Employers do need to check that lone workers have no medical conditions that make them unsuitable for working alone.
Other UK legislation that is relevant to the safety of lone workers includes:
- The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974
- The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999
- Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations 1977(a) and The Health and Safety (Consultation with Employees) Regulations 1996(b)
- Fire Act 2005
New Guidelines and Penalties
In 2015 the Sentencing Council published new guidelines aimed at delivering proportional and fair penalties for breeches of legislation that effect the well-being of workers. The new Health and Safety Offences, Corporate Manslaughter and Food Safety and Hygiene Offences Definitive Guidelines came into force on 1 February 2016. The guidelines increased the maximum fines and custodial sentences that can be handed down to employers.
The new guidelines impose a sliding scale of fines, designed to ensure that all companies, large or small, receive a penalty that impacts their bottom line to the same degree. Companies with a turnover of more than £50 million can now be fined up to £20 million in cases of corporate manslaughter. In the most severe cases, the legislation now also allows for directors to face custodial sentences of up to life imprisonment.