What’s the issue?

In the past six months, two care workers have been stabbed to death by patients during home visits whilst the care worker was working alone. Many employees in the UK work alone or apart from others, not just in the health service, but in industries such as driving, security, cleaning, construction, retail and office services. The realistic hazards they face range from abduction, assault and accidents.

Working alone or from home is legal provided that the risks of doing so have been adequately assessed and addressed by the employer. Employers have a legal duty to all their employees to ensure the employees’ health, safety and welfare at work is reasonably practicable. Lone and home workers have exactly the same protection as office based employees, but an employer will probably need to take extra steps to ensure that employees working outside the office are safe and well.

In addition the new Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 which came into force on 6 April 2008 provides that an organisation will be guilty of corporate manslaughter if the way in which its activities are managed or organised causes a person’s death and is a gross breach of a relevant duty of care owed by the organisation to the deceased. To view the act in more detail visit -

www.justice.gov.uk/publications/corporatemanslaughter2007.htm.

What do I do as an employer?

The starting point for employers is to conduct an assessment of the risks employees (and others) face whilst working. Carrying out a “suitable and sufficient” risk assessment is a specific legal requirement. The HSE website contains excellent advice on how to conduct risk assessments which can be accessed via http://www.hse.gov.uk/risk/fivesteps.htm.

A risk assessment must be carried out by a competent person and should:

  • Identify hazards (i.e. something which may cause harm).
  • Identify who may be harmed by a hazard e.g. the worker, customers.
  • Evaluate the risk of those hazards occurring including the harm and likelihood of occurrence.
  • Identify measures to remove or reduce those risks e.g. training, instruction.
  • Be recorded if an employer employs five or more employees.
  • Be reviewed and updated on a regular basis.

For example, a cleaner uses certain chemicals to wash a floor. One potential hazard is slipping on a wet floor. Those potentially affected are the cleaner and others who may walk on the floor. In terms of risk evaluation, the likelihood of a risk occurring is medium / high. The potential harm ranges from bruising to a severe head injury. A risk reducing measure may be to go over the floor with a dry mop rather than letting it dry naturally.

Consultation with employees is vital as they are the best source of information about the risks associated with a particular job.

What particular issues are relevant for lone workers?

Lone workers face particular problems and your risk assessment should identify these.

The risk assessment should consider whether the job can be carried out safely by one person. There are certain jobs where particular legal requirements apply such as diving operations, fumigation and driving vehicles containing explosives.

Employers need to consider whether lone working is safe for certain classes of employees. It may not be suitable for people with certain medical conditions or young workers, etc. Particular consideration needs to be give to new and expectant mothers.

You may need to put in place extra risk reducing measures to protect people working alone. For instance, consider the guidelines for employees dealing with emergency situations such as fire, accidents or violent incidents. There are a number of alarm devices which can be operated by the employee, but which also go off automatically if there has been no activity for a designated period.

If your employees are required to use chemicals as part of their job, you will need to make sure that all lone workers have adequate instruction and guidance on their safe use. This may involve extra training which is scheduled to suit the lone worker.

Risks may be reduced by scheduling work to avoid, for example, working alone at night. Other safe working procedures can be implemented to deal with specific risks to lone workers such as using lifting aids to move heavy loads, or restricting access to the premises when a worker is alone.

Agree with all lone workers where they will mainly work from and when they will be contactable – even if they are travelling to different locations they should report in periodically so that their managers can keep track of their movements. Home workers should agree core hours which they will work and ensure they are contactable during this period. You may have to agree with them when they will make on-site visits for meetings and appraisals.

Lone workers require supervision to ensure that they remain safe and are carrying out procedures correctly as well as ensuring quality of work. The extent of supervision will depend on the risks identified. Obviously, the higher the risk, the more supervision will be required. New or inexperienced employees will require greater supervision and procedures may include regular contact by telephone and periodic visits.

Are there any particular considerations for home workers?

Home workers fall into a particular category of lone workers so all the above will apply. There may also be particular issues such as:

  • Particular hazards in the home - the person carrying out the risk assessment may need to visit the employee’s home in order to adequately identify hazards. These may include the presence of children, neighbours or pets which may be affected. You will need to assess the risks to which they may be exposed.
  • Safety – again, this is something that should be covered in the risk assessment. Will homeworkers be allowed to meet customers at their home or should meetings take place in the office? You may consider providing additional security (especially if an employee is required to work with valuable equipment or goods), the provision of a first aid kit and fire detection and fighting equipment.
  • Work Equipment–if you provide equipment for an employee to do their job you will need to ensure that the equipment is suitable for purpose. The employer will also need to carry out checks and maintenance on the equipment and provide any training and information to the employee.
  • Electrical Equipment – always requires special care and employers should ensure that this is inspected by a qualified electrician to ensure that all parts remain safe and that the way that the systems are set up do not pose a hazard (for instance cables lying on the floor could trip someone up).
  • VDUs / DSEs – employers should not forget that the relevant regulations apply to those working at home and will be particularly relevant for teleworkers. Therefore, employers will need to ensure that, for example:
    • workstations are adjustable.
    • there is adequate lighting.
    • glare reducing measures are in place.
    • employees take adequate breaks.
    • access to eye and eyesight tests is provided.
  • Supervision – the same principles apply as for all lone workers. However, some research suggests that homeworkers are particularly susceptible to working through periods of illness or working excessive hours simply because their work is in the home. This should be factored into an employer’s monitoring and supervision procedures.

From a “non safety” perspective, you will need to check that the employee’s house insurance covers them working from home. You will also need to agree who pays for things such as electricity, heating, telephone calls and internet connections etc. Arrangements may be required to ensure confidentiality, such as providing a shredder for the shredding of documents and a data security policy.

What do I tell my employees?

Employees need to be trained and provided with information so that they understand the generic risks of their work, any specific risks involved with a certain task and the safe working arrangements to be followed. Refresher training should be provided at regular intervals.

Can’t I just let them get on with it?

Lone workers should not be “out of sight and out of mind”. Working alone for periods of time can lead to stress and feelings of isolation in some employees. This can be addressed by ensuring that employees are including in team meetings, training sessions and other outings / visits to the office so that they feel included. Employers have a duty to make sure that employees do not exceed the weekly maximum of 48 hours per week, but this is difficult to monitor if employees are not in the office. Agreeing core hours and rest breaks should help discharge this duty.

Anything else?

It is important that risk assessments and working procedures are monitored on a regular basis to ensure that systems are effective, are being adhered to and to ensure that risks cannot be reduced further. Part of this will be a robust reporting procedure so that any incidents, however minor, can be reported to ascertain if trends are developing. Employers are already obliged to report certain work related accidents, injuries and dangerous occurrences.

You should also ensure that your employer’s liability insurance covers people working from home or alone.

What if things go wrong?

Getting it wrong has many consequences – lives can be lost, staff morale can drop, there may be an investigation by one of the safety enforcement bodies and there is the risk of prosecution even where there has been no fatality. In the most serious of cases, that prosecution could be under the new Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007. Someone has to be prosecuted first.

Don’t let it be you.