We often talk in our blog about why it’s particularly important to look after lone worker health & safety. (And indeed, health & safety is vital to all workers regardless of whether they are working out of sight or hearing of their colleagues). Broadly speaking, these reasons fall into three categories: moral, legal and financial.
We always like to start with the moral reason: it’s simply the right thing to do. Recognising that staff are humans whose wellbeing must be considered, and not simply resources, marks any organisation out as somewhere great to work. In this blog, we’re going to focus on the UK and on the two other reasons – legal and financial. These two are intricately intertwined. As we’ll outline, failure to invest in protecting the health & safety of workers can lead to a breach of key legislation. And furthermore, failure to meet legal requirements can result in heavy financial penalties.
Health and safety legislation in the UK
UK laws require employers to protect all their employees, as well as contractors and self-employed workers. Employers must assess the health and safety risks associated with any activity before the work begins. There are no specific laws governing lone working; in short, lone working is not against the law. However, the considerations for planning a safe and healthy working environment for lone and remote workers are often quite different than for other staff. The UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) defines lone workers as “those who work by themselves without close or direct supervision”. It’s essential to have a robust policy which codifies your organisation’s policies and procedures around lone working, in line with the regulations.
The primary legislation covering occupational health and safety in the UK is the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, together with later amendments, as well as the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. There is also legislation covering reporting of accidents and incidents at work, under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013 (RIDDOR).
What happens when organisations fail to implement the legislation?
How these laws are applied obviously shapes behaviour of employers across the economy. In 2015 the Sentencing Council published new guidelines aimed at delivering proportional and fair penalties for breaches of legislation. The new rules (Health and Safety Offences, Corporate Manslaughter and Food Safety and Hygiene Offences Definitive Guideline) came into force on 1 February 2016. The sentencing court must consider the overall seriousness of the offence, with reference to the degree of culpability and risk of harm.
The new guidelines imposed a sliding scale of fines, designed to ensure that all companies, large or small, receive a penalty that impacts their bottom line to the same degree. Companies with a turnover of more than £50 million can now be fined up to £20 million in cases of corporate manslaughter. In the most severe cases, the legislation now also allows for directors to face custodial sentences of up to life imprisonment.
Health and safety sentencing guidelines in action
The Sentencing Council recently published an impact assessment on the first three years of implementation of the guidelines. The report showed that fines for breaches of health & safety legislation have increased for all sizes of organisation. For instance, in 2018 courts imposed a total of 15 fines; and in the first quarter of 2019, there were a further five fines of over £1 million (the highest nearly £3 million). Similarly, the appeals process is shown to be operating appropriately, although these appeals often hinge on technicalities.
As the impact has been so widely publicised, it does seem that there has been a beneficial effect on the health and safety culture across organisations. Fines for breaches are no longer regarded as exceptional, or limited to significant disasters involving multiple fatalities. As larger fines are here to stay for health & safety offences, more organisations are taking the health and safety of their workers more seriously. They’re taking steps to reduce the risks which their (lone) workers face in everyday work practice.
Responsive lone worker safety which mitigates risk
It is the role of the directors to take the lead in developing their company’s approach to health and safety. This means setting the agenda around staff and customer protection, and preparing policies, procedures and company rules to define risk around job roles. Directors must ensure risk assessments have been conducted thoroughly across the business. And directors must be aware of duties which are prohibited from being undertaken by lone workers.
One great way to demonstrate and deliver a health & safety culture for lone workers in your organisation is adopting a lone worker safety system. That’s where Safe Hub comes into play. We’ve got the apps, devices and features to cover every lone working scenario. We can help lone workers in an emergency, and can even stop them getting into trouble in the first place. With Safe Hub on your side, you can take a proactive approach to lone worker health and safety.
The full impact assessment on the 2015 sentencing guidelines can be found here: https://www.sentencingcouncil.org.uk/publications/item/health-and-safety-offences-assessment-of-guideline/
To find out more about how Safe Hub can mitigate lone worker health and safety risks in your organisation, contact one of the team today.
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.