Is your business doing enough to manage the risks from lone working?

The topic of lone person working hit the headlines again last month with the national convenience store retailer McColl’s being fined £150,000 and ordered to pay £78,000 in costs for failing to do enough to protect its employees from six violent robberies at four branches between April 2011 and January 2012. The failings were deemed not just specific to individual branches, but spread across the country. McColl’s had not always carried out lone working risk assessments and the company’s assessments for workplace violence were either not carried out or were inadequate.

So what is the law in relation to lone working?

There are no general legal restrictions on working alone – indeed if there were, many work activities would be extremely impractical.

The starting point for employers is section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (the requirement for employers to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all employees) and regulation 3 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, which requires employers to make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks to the health and safety of employees to which they are exposed whilst they are at work. In practice, this means that the law requires that the activities of lone workers must be subject to the same sort of risk assessment process as any other type of work – i.e. they must not be put at more risk than other employees.

As with any other type of retail business, bookmakers may be subject to crime, robberies and work-related violence. Furthermore, as with any retail business, lone working is an issue for bookmakers with reduced staffing at quieter times of the day. Whilst some operators may have a policy of no planned lone-person working after 19:15 for their whole shop estate, others have abandoned their no lone working at night policy due to rising costs.

Safe Bet Alliance

In order to reduce the risk of robbery and other forms of violence in the workplace, in 2010 the Safe Bet Alliance (a collaborative initiative including the Association of British Bookmakers, Metropolitan Police, LACORs, the HSE, Community Union and the Institute of Conflict Management), launched its Voluntary Code of Safety and Security (“the Code”) which provides a set of National Standards for bookmakers including violence in the workplace, risk assessment, security and safety measures (covering lone working), and training. The Code has had significant success with the Metropolitan Police reporting that the number of betting shop robberies in London had declined by 46% in 2010 – 2011.

The Code was recently revised in June of this year. It acknowledges that lone working is sometimes unavoidable but that operators should only allow lone working once a risk assessment has been carried out and there is evidence to show that lone working at a particular time of day is safe. Whilst the Code refers to a significant proportion of robberies occurring after 18:30 in the evening, operators should be aware that this is not always the case. There have also been concerns expressed about some customers getting angry when they get frustrated having lost money and potentially being violent towards staff.

The Code offers some useful guidance which operators should consider, including having a lone working policy. Once a risk assessment has been carried out, the operator should define the minimum number of staff and their experience levels necessary to run the shop securely. If, following a risk assessment, lone working is considered appropriate and robbery is a heightened risk then operators should consider additional measures such as 'bandit screens' remote monitoring systems, controlled entry and hold up alarms.

Risk Assessment

As with any risk assessment, this is a dynamic document and should be re-visited on a regular basis and/or when circumstances change. For example, operators should consider maintaining regular contact with their local police officers who will be able to provide information on crime levels in the locality. They should also monitor incident levels at other premises in the locality. The change in the demographic in a locality may also impact on the need to carry out a review of a lone person working risk assessment. Such a change may result in an increase (or decrease) in business levels in a shop, with a possible consequent change in the amount of cash handling. Again, this may be a contributing factor in determining whether the approach to lone person working in a particular shop needs to be revisited.

Whilst resource and cost may be one relevant factor in making an assessment in relation to the need or requirement for lone person working, it should not be the sole factor. If an operator was to justify lone person working on the basis of cost (and resource) are the sole factor, then this will be viewed by the courts as a serious aggravating factor, and fines imposed accordingly.

Guidance

HSE guidance also emphasises the importance of training for lone workers where there is limited supervision to control, guide and help in uncertain situations. Training may be crucial in enabling people to cope in unexpected circumstances and with potential exposure to violence and aggression. Procedures should also be put in place to monitor lone workers such as supervisors visiting periodically, pre-agreed intervals of regular contact and the use of manually operated or automatic warning devices, which trigger if specific signals are not received.