We always enjoy meeting other health and safety professionals who are as dedicated as we are to protecting lone workers. So we particularly welcomed the keynote address at this year’s Lone Worker Safety Conference on 15 October 2019 at The King’s Fund in London. The head of the vulnerable workers team at the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), Barbara Hockey, shared some important insight. And during her speech, she announced a welcome review of the HSE’s lone worker guidance.
What the HSE says about lone workers now
It’s worth remembering that there are no specific regulations relating to lone workers. However, the HSE has always recognised that this group of workers can be at higher risk. To that end, it provides a leaflet ‘Working Alone: Health and safety guidance on the risks’. Yet this leaflet was last updated in 2012. Since that time, the face of lone working has changed considerably. The way in which people work alone, where they work and the activities they carry out have all developed. The HSE recognises these changes and the fact that, as the regulator for health and safety in the workplace, they also need to adapt their lone worker guidance.
The changing nature of working alone
The HSE has singled out some particular areas where the environment for lone working has altered over the course of the last decade. First, there are issues around the ‘gig’ economy. Clearly, this style of working has greatly increased flexibility for workers. There are now approximately 3 million people who are classed as ‘gig’ workers. But it can also downgrade their status with their employer, with health and safety implications, especially for workers on lower incomes. About half of those workers are under the age of thirty-five. Therefore it’s likely that they might work in this manner for the whole of their careers, rather than in a more traditional working environment.
Secondly, there is now rightly more concern with the impact of lone working on mental health and wellbeing. The main mental health problems identified so far are work-related stress and other mental health issues. There are also safety risks associated with fatigue, and an increase in occupational injuries such as manual handling injuries for delivery drivers. For the HSE this creates challenges on location-based regulatory activity and how they hold the right people to account.
Thirdly, there are implications arising from the fact that the UK has an ageing workforce. Recent research carried out by the HSE shows that 72% of people over the age of 50 are now working, up from 56% in 1992. By 2050 it is estimated that 40% of the UK’s workforce will have some form of long-term health condition, many age-related. This also implies that accidents experienced by older workers are more likely to result in more serious outcomes.
Developing new lone worker guidance
Over the course of the last year, the HSE has been working with stakeholders to review its lone worker guidance. As well as a new guidance leaflet, the HSE is developing a series of dedicated web pages, to cover key topics and frequently asked questions. The focus will continue to be on encouraging and empowering employers to do their own assessment of risk and take proactive steps based on this guidance. The HSE is also including much more information about how employers can control the risks.
The new guidance is still in draft form and will not be launched in its new format until early next year. As well as the impact on mental health and wellbeing, there is also a new section on work-related violence. This matches the focus of many health and safety professionals in the workplace, as it’s a consistent problem in a number of public-facing roles. You can read more about Barbara Hockey’s speech in the online version of Health and Safety Matters https://www.hsmsearch.com/HSE-to-review-lone-worker-guidance.
A renewed commitment to lone workers
Lone Worker Solutions welcomes this approach by the HSE to update its lone worker guidance. As the UK’s regulator for health and safety issues, the HSE must take a lead in ensuring that lone workers get the support they need from employers. But equally, employers need to take responsibility for protecting their workers as best they can. The HSE is rightly putting the emphasis on getting employers to ask the right questions.
We look forward to reading the updated content when it is published in 2020. In the meantime, we will continue to work tirelessly to provide a comprehensive lone worker safety solution. With Safe Hub on their side, employers know that lone workers are protected wherever they are, and whatever help they need.
Contact Lone Worker Solutions and the Safe Hub team today to find out more about lone worker guidance on health and safety.
Post by George Stavrinidis
George is Chief Executive Officer of Lone Worker Solutions (LWS). He believes passionately that everyone should be protected and supported at work. George supports LWS clients to make sure they enjoy the most effective relationship with the team and maximise the effectiveness of their deployment of Safe Hub.