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Lone Worker Protection – The Current Landscape

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12-05 06Peter Swan, MD of SBES, examines an often-overlooked issue

Lone working, which often takes place in isolated areas or at unsocial times, occurs across many different sectors including construction, labs, refineries, warehouses and data/server rooms. The Office of National Statistics estimates that there are around six million lone workers in the UK.

 

The safety of lone workers is vital for businesses, and employers have a responsibility to protect these workers, yet lone worker safety is an area that is often forgotten or neglected. A recent study of 2,000 adults found that 78 per were required to work alone, yet a quarter of those surveyed said their employer never checked the welfare of staff when working alone.

UK lone worker policy does not prohibit lone working in a general sense, but companies and organisations must conduct a risk assessment covering the activities of all employees, including lone workers. Since the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act of 2007, companies and organisations can be found guilty of corporate manslaughter due to any serious management failure that results in a gross breach of their duty of care. A breach of the Act is likely to occur if organisations are not aware of the risks to their lone workers and/or if suitable protection is not in place.

Employers need to ask themselves:

  • Have you carried out a risk assessment of your lone working environments? (Even when risk assessments are carried out, one in five of these are thought by safety reps to be inadequate- Trades Union Congress survey, 2014)
  • How long has it been since lone working procedures were reviewed?
  • Does someone in your company always know where and when lone workers will be attending and leaving a shift?
  • Do certain geographical locations have a higher risk of violence than others?
  • Are your lone workers adequately trained to assess potential risks when on the job?
  • Do all your new employees receive the correct training before starting lone work?
  • How can lone workers get help if an incident occurs?

As a first step, employers need to conduct risk assessments within lone working environments. This applies even to those working in environments that appear ‘safe’. Data centres and server rooms, for example, can have hidden dangers such as high voltages, trip hazards and confined spaces (for example heating and ventilation ducts).  Trips and falls on a level was the fifth most frequently cited hazard in 2014 according to TUC’s Survey.

Falls from a height were also a major hazard in 2013/14 (HSE survey), accounting for nearly three in ten fatal injuries to workers - almost half of all fatal falls took place in construction. Worst-case scenario ‘man down’ incidents have occurred where a lone worker has not been discovered for hours after an incident, as correct lone worker protection was not in place.

In cases such as this, ‘man down’ lone worker protection systems are vital to keep employees safe. These systems will send an alert to a contact of your choice when the unit is stationary for a specified time.

Lone worker protection equipment falls into two broad camps in terms of technology – those that rely on mobile phone technology, and those that rely on local wireless transmission. There are pros and cons to both. Those that rely on the mobile phone network, for example, require a good 3G or 4G network signal and good battery life, while those that use local wireless networks, such as a site based lone worker alarm system, do not suffer from signal ‘black-spots’ or outages.

Many lone worker protection systems use GPS which can locate an incident down to a few metres – great for outdoors but don’t be fooled; GPS doesn’t work effectively indoors.

It is down to the individual employer to ensure the correct technology is installed to keep their lone workers safe. Often the risk for lone workers is too high to rely on the mobile phone network or GPS systems.

Another important factor to bear in mind are the strict European rules and regulations concerning explosive atmospheres (Explosive Atmospheres Directive 94/9/EC). All lone worker alarm systems must be ATEX/Ex certified to the correct Protection Zone, Apparatus Group and Temperature class for each individual ATEX/Ex environment. It is important to bear in mind that just because safety equipment holds an ATEX/Ex label, it may not be certified to the correct level required and offer the correct protection to lone workers.


Peter Swan, Managing Director, SBES: www.sbes.co.uk

SBES offers a comprehensive range of lone worker protection systems to help mitigate the risk of incidents involving lone workers.

Sources:

https://www.tuc.org.uk/sites/default/files/HealthandSafetySurvey2014.pdf

http://www.mobilenewscwp.co.uk/2015/02/23/daisy-half-of-businesses-not-doing-enough-to-protect-lone-workers/

http://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/causinj/kinds-of-accident.pdf