As an employer, you have a duty of care to your employees. But what exactly does this mean?
It’s basically ensuring that the mental and physical health & wellbeing of your employees are being protected. And with one in five people experiencing mental health issues or illnesses a year, it’s no surprise that employee wellbeing has been the focus of attention for many employers.
This duty of care also applies to your lone workers. According to employment law, you’re required to carefully consider and address any areas thought of as a ‘risk’ to their health, safety, and wellbeing.
Although this duty is a legal obligation, you shouldn’t think of it that way. As well as meeting the legal requirements, it can also bring with it major benefits to your business and workers. When the wellbeing of your staff is looked after, they’re happier, motivated and more productive. And for your business, happier employees mean better engagement, increased retention and improved brand reputation.
In this piece, we’ll explain who lone workers are and highlight your legal obligation to them.
Who do we consider “lone workers”?
It’s anyone that works in isolation and with limited supervision. With changes to the traditional way of working (9-5) and the increased availability of the internet, employers must be able to adapt in order to attract the best talent. One of such changes in the introduction of lone working.
Depending on the organization, a lone worker could be anything from a community nurse making home visits to an electric company employee carrying out maintenance on meters.
Other examples or lone/remote workers include:
- Estate agents.
- Site workers.
- Postal staff.
- Utilities employees (meter readers, maintenance staff).
- Constriction workers (surveyors, site workers, inspectors).
- Mobile workers (drivers, care/social workers, probation officers, service engineers, etc.).
- People working outside of the normal working hours (Security guards, cleaners, etc.).
Your responsibilities for lone workers
The first duty you have to your employees is to access the risks of working alone and take reasonable steps to avoid or control them.
The process involves:
- Talking with your employees about the potential risks of working alone. You’ll then create a plan to control any identified issues. It’s worth noting, by law you’re required to consult all staff members on health and safety matters that concern them.
- Implementing procedures to ensure that risks are removed and control measures are in place.
- Training, instructing and supervising the employee on lone working procedures.
- Reviewing risk assessments regularly or after major changes to work practices.
While there are many benefits of lone working, it also comes with some risks to you and your employees.
In order to reduce risks, consider the following measures:
- Training employees on the risks involved with certain work activities and lone working as a whole.
- An appropriate supervision process.
- Adequate emergency and evacuation procedures.
- An effective communication routine between supervisor and lone worker.
Remember, the health and safety process you have in place for your off-site employees will be different from the one in place for your staff based in the office. But it’s also worth noting, you shouldn’t put your lone workers at more risk than you would your office workers.
Training for lone workers
You could consider training as it’s important for these types of workers. This is especially the case for those with little to no supervision. You should also consider training that teaches them to cope with unexpected circumstances and manage issues effectively.
Because your lone workers don’t have immediate access to their supervisors or other more experienced co-workers, providing them with extra training can come in handy to understand the risks involved in their work.
It’s also a good idea to put a lone working policy in place. The policy sets out what can and can’t be done while working alone. You should ensure your employees fully understand and follow the policy and procedures.
Your duty of care as an employer is an ongoing issue and not just a one-off event.
Remember to review your lone worker policy often and update to account for any changes to employee duties, legislation and business trends.
Finally, remember to carry out regular reviews of risk assessments. This is especially important after any significant changes to the employee’s work environment.
About the author
Alan Price is Peninsula’s Group Operations Director and CEO of BrightHR, the most popular HR software, and support service for SMEs in the UK. He oversees the support that the company offers SMEs across the UK, Ireland and Canada and comments on major HR and employment law issues.