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Many self-employed people work alone. We take a look what defines lone working, what businesses should do when employing lone workers, and your legal rights if you are one.
The term lone worker is used to describe any person who works “by themselves without close or direct supervision” (definition by the Health & Safety Executive).
So a lone worker could be someone:
It is estimated that 22% of the UK’s working population are actually lone workers, so employers and contractors need to consider if this is an issue for them.
Public facing workers
These are staff who work in environments where they meet and interact with the general public in various locations. These staff may not know the environment they are entering or the background of the people they are meeting. This brings risks of:
Those who work at a fixed site
Fixed site locations can be high risk, such as building sites and factories, with machinery or intensive labour involved. Without supervision what happens to a lone worker if they have an accident or become ill during their working hours?
While there are no general legal restrictions on working alone, employers and contractors (for themselves and for anyone they employ / subcontract) have to consider their duty of care towards lone workers with regards to their health and safety, and what risks they may be exposed to.
Section 2 of the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 requires employers to ensure the health, safety, and welfare at work of all their staff (including Contractors doing work for them), so far as is reasonably practicable.
Regulation 3 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 requires employers to make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks to the H&S of all staff (including contractors) while they are at work. Assessments should include defining the minimum number of staff and the experience levels necessary to do the job safely. While resources and costs will be a relevant factor in making an assessment of whether there is a need or requirement for lone-working, it should not be the sole factor.
At the end of 2014, national convenience store retailer McColl’s was fined £150,000 and ordered to pay £78,000 in costs for failing to do enough to protect its employees from 6 violent robberies at 4 branches. They had not carried out lone-working risk assessments.
In 2016 KK Security and Veritas were fined £8,000 each plus costs in respect of a lone worker who died from carbon monoxide poisoning while at work. In 2014 Mr Iqbal was employed by KK Security Services as a security guard on a construction site (KK was sub-contracted to Veritas Security). The generator on site failed in sub-zero temperatures and Mr Iqbal made several attempts to re-start the generator and had asked for assistance from both KK and Veritas, which had not been provided. The HSE investigation found there was no system in place to protect his welfare and safety and no emergency support. Trying to keep warm Mr Iqbal lit some bbq coal in a barrow which he put in a steel container used as the site office; and he was found dead by police a few hours later.
Employers are required to have a health and safety policy if they employ five or more workers.
If you are a freelancer or contractor who works in a low-risk occupation and do not employ others, you no longer have personal health and safety obligations – you can read the details here.
The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 cannot be ignored – the penalty is an unlimited fine. It allows companies to be accountable for deaths caused by very serious management failings.
In February 2011, the first company was found guilty of corporate manslaughter under this law, relating to an employee’s death, and was fined £385,000. Geologist Alexander Wright died in September 2008 when a 12.6-ft deep unsupported trial pit that he was working in alone caved in at a development site near Stroud, Gloucestershire. The Judge said that his employer, Cotswold Geotechnical were in gross breach of their duty to Mr Wright and this was a “grave offence.” He explained the fine marked the gravity of the offence, but added that because the company was small a larger fine would cause it to be liquidated, meaning the other four people employed there would lose their jobs.
In 2016, Monavan Construction Ltd pleaded guilty to 2 counts of Corporate Manslaughter after 2 men were walking home past a building site and walked across some timber boarding, which gave way; they fell 3.7 metres into the basement and both suffered fatal head and neck injuries. They were fined £500,000 for both deaths plus an additional £50,000 plus costs of £23,000.
Prior to the Corporate Manslaughter Act it was possible for a company to be prosecuted for a wide range of criminal offences including the common law offence of gross negligence manslaughter (this is still available). However, for the company to be guilty of the offence it was necessary for a senior individual to be guilty of the offence. The new law is wider, allowing a company to be convicted if it can be proven that there was a gross breach of duty of care by “senior management” (not just one individual).
Employers need to undertake a risk assessment before staff work alone to ensure they are at no greater risk than other employees. The HSE has a five-step risk assessment to help employers establish the risks:
Some industries do have specific laws that prohibit lone working (for example diving operations, vehicles carrying explosives, and fumigation work.
Employers should consider having a Lone Workers policy. Although this is not a legal requirement, it can promote a culture of safety among lone workers. The policy should include:
The HSE has guidance that emphasises the importance of training for lone workers and to have procedures in place to monitor lone workers. Training can be provided on risk assessment, de-fusion/de-escalation skills, first aid and emergency training, and monitoring lone work locations.
If something does goes wrong you can read about personal injury claims and HSE statistics on fatalities and accidents here.
If you are an employer and need ongoing professional help with any staff/freelance issues then talk to Lesley at The HR Kiosk – a Human Resources Consultancy for small businesses – our fees are low to reflect the pressures on small businesses and you can hire us for as much time as you need.
Please note that the advice given on this website and by our advisors is guidance only and cannot be taken as an authoritative or current interpretation of the law. It can also not be seen as specific advice for individual cases. Please also note that there are differences in legislation in Northern Ireland.
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Darren Fell, CEO of Crunch, said: "We welcome the government's commitment to adopt the recommendations from the Taylor report. We would however, urge caution that any response does not introduce more red tape, or reduce the ability for entrepreneurs to employ people flexibly."