Lone working: the risks

words: Simon Bloxham, Safety for Business
Simon Bloxham

With COVID-19 still on the scene and looking as though it isn’t going to go away any time soon, we need to think about other risks that maybe weren’t such an issue for us before.

One consequence of the virus is a reduction in personnel on site and this could lead to lone working with all its associated problems.

Depending on the location of the premises the risks can be significant, such as:

  1. Physical injury or property damage from violence or attack by an intruder
  2. Lack of first aid measures and how to administer medical aid if required
  3. What to do in the event of a fire or emergency and possible delay in fire detection
  4. Personnel may feel very vulnerable working alone and this can be the cause of stress and anxiety.

A person is working alone when a person works in any environment where there are no other workers present who have knowledge of the work and workplace, and who are available to respond effectively to unusual occurrences or emergencies.

Many funeral homes are made up of one main premises plus satellite sites where the satellite sites are often just to gain a presence in the high street and are available mainly for arranging funerals. It is therefore common for a single employee, available for appointments or walk-ins, to work alone.

Even in the main premises, when other employees are off site at funerals or recoveries there may be occasions where someone is left alone to hold the fort.

Risk assessments

As an employer you have a ‘duty of care’ for all your employees and when you have employees who work alone you are required to assess the risk and implement preventative actions.

If one of your employees sustained an injury whilst working alone or an incident was made worse because that person was alone, and there had been no risk assessment or preventative measures, then you may be held liable, with both fines and claims against you possible.

So how do we go about that risk assessment. Start by looking for the hazards, what potentially could be a problem to the lone worker. What about:

  • The location of the site, e.g. on a high street or in an alleyway. If you’re on the high street there’s probably less chance of an assault than if you are on a back street.
  • The activity being completed by the lone worker. Is it hazardous even when others are around?
  • Whether visitors come to the site
  • The general safety of the environment the worker works in. Is the premises old with non-standard stairs, slip and trip hazards or poor lighting?

What you could do to reduce the risk

  • Always assess the risk when a new person is employed to work alone or there is a new site where employees will be alone
  • Discuss with the worker their physical capability to do the work safely. Are there any underlying conditions that need to be considered such as an illness that might need immediate treatment? By the way HR, GDPR and any other abbreviation we can bring to the mix are all important, but never override a person’s health and wellbeing. So employees should be encouraged to let you know of any medical concerns they have.
  • Implement a procedure for monitoring the lone worker such as telephoning on a regular b a s i s t o ensure all is okay. This is a bit of a minimum requirement for lone work. There are plenty of ‘lone worker alarms’ that you can get but it could be as simple as a fairly regular telephone call made to someone who can raise an alarm if that call doesn’t happen.
  • If the site is in an area where unsavoury people may just walk in, consider keeping the doors locked or only allowing ‘by appointment’ visits
  • Ensure all lone workers are adequately trained and fully aware of the contact and emergency procedures you have in place
  • Consider issuing a personal alarm to all lone workers but please be aware that these are not useful if there is no one at hand who will attend when they hear the alarm
  • Think about that early warning of fire. A lone worker will only ever be in one place, so what happens if a fire occurs somewhere else on site?

Lone working isn’t illegal or always a bad thing. When you look at the statistics, the causes of accidents don’t feature lone working that much. But as with all health and safety it is the potential for risk that we should be thinking about.

If it could happen, we should be doing something about it.

Help is at hand! As a member of SAIF:

You can talk to a safety professional at Safety for Business simply by calling 08456 344 164.

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