17th December 2013
Increasingly, phrases such as, “lack of supervision” or “absence of a supervisor present” appear in accident compensation cases where an employee has been left alone to carry out a task and an accident occurred, which caused significant or even fatal injuries.
Accompanying statements heard in court recount how there was also a “lack of training and information” and a subsequent Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation may also find a failure to carry out a risk assessment or put a ‘safe system of work’ in place.
Tasks which involve employees working alone should not incur more risk than those undertaken when working alongside others, and therefore, may require extra risk-control measures. Foremost among the additional precautions should be foreseeable emergencies, i.e. fire, equipment failure, illness and accidents.
While it is not illegal to ask employees to work alone on a separate task, the law requires employers to carefully consider any health and safety risks, the HSE state that “they are still responsible for the health, safety and welfare at work of all their workers, which cannot be transferred to any other person, including those people who work alone.”
This also applies to when an employee is required work alone at the premises of another employer who should inform the lone worker’s employer of any risks and the control measures needed to be taken.
Employers, therefore, need to still comply with their legal duties towards lone workers, as stipulated in the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.
Risk assessment and back-up...
In all circumstances, a risk assessment should be made and arrangements for providing help or back-up should be put in place if it is found that it is not possible for a lone worker to safely carry out specific tasks, such as some electrical work or if required to work in a high-risk confined space.
HSE also highlight other key considerations, which should also include :
• The medical fitness of a worker to carry out a specific task. • Safe access in and out for one person. • Safe handling by one person of temporary access equipment, such as portable ladders or trestles. • Procedures if the worker becomes ill or has an accident.
Those who work by themselves without close or direct supervision may be found in either fixed or mobile locations.
Fixed locations - can include a small workshop, petrol station, kiosk or retail outlets and working alone for long periods can occur in factories, warehouses, leisure centres. Those who also work on their own and often outside normal hours, include cleaners and security, maintenance or repairs personnel.
Mobile locations - can involve employees away from their fixed base involved in construction, maintenance and repair, plant installation and cleaning, agriculture and forestry. Service workers, who are mobile include postal staff, social and medical workers, engineers, estate agents, sales or service representatives visiting domestic and commercial premises.