How to conduct risk assessments for lone workers

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Lone workers can be potentially at greater risk of injury than other employees, meaning that employers need to adopt a more proactive approach to ensuring their safety. Risk assessments are an excellent starting point, but how are they conducted, and are they enough?

Working unsupervised, especially in the construction sector or around heavy machinery, poses many risks to the personal safety of a lone worker. Statistics released by the Health and Safety Executive reveal that 137 employees had suffered a fatal injury at work in 2016/17. A shocking 600,000 workers also suffered severe injury across this same period, meaning the proper identification and management of workplace risks is vital to protect lone workers.

How to conduct a risk assessment

While being prepared for a worst-case scenario is always important, it is even more helpful to avoid the accident altogether. It is especially necessary to take such preventative measures in the case of lone workers, who don’t benefit from the presence of colleagues who can come to their aid.

Here are five key steps to conducting a risk assessment for lone workers:

1. Identify a hazard

A hazard is anything that can physically cause harm, including chemicals, electrical units, or any work with a potential of falling from a great height.

Ask yourself how they could cause an accident. Think critically about the potential for mishap, and, if possible, refer to previously logged incidents of workplace injury. Learn from mistakes.

Some lone workers may not work in the same environment for each job, so you will need to think about potential hazards they could encounter in new locales.

2. Identify those at risk and keep them safe

This might seem straightforward, as you’re conducting this risk assessment for one or more lone workers. But it’s important to remember that other people might enter the working area too.

Danger zones that are obvious to you or your employee may be an accident waiting to happen to visitors and prospective clients. Although this exercise is geared towards keeping your lone workers safe, it’s your responsibility to ensure that everyone is kept out of harm’s way when you’re conducting work.

3. Evaluate the potential risk and lay out preventative measures

Once you have identified what you perceive to be potential hazards, consider how workers are currently doing the job. Can processes be modified to avoid a potentially dangerous situation? If a risk cannot be eliminated from the work, look instead for ways to minimise the danger.

Making everyone aware of an identified hazard, and minimising exposure to it, is one of the most effective means of preventing workplace injury. Make sure that everyone is aware of the location of all First Aid stations and are familiarised with the medical equipment.

4. Keep a record of your significant findings

When keeping a record of potential hazards in the workplace and the measures taken to reduce their potential for harm, remember to present your findings in a clear and understandable way. For instance, list the most immediately threatening risks at the head of the document, and make note of what has been done to remove it from the vicinity of others.

A good way to record your findings is with this risk assessment template from the Health and Safety Executive, which allows you to quickly keep track of workplace accidents and the preventive measures put in place.

5. Regularly review and update

No single workplace will ever stay the same. Changes to a working environment naturally bring with it the potential for new hazards, meaning safety procedures need regular updates.

Remember to regularly appraise your workplace for potential hazards and review existing precautions, taking note of any significant changes and any areas for improvement.

Are risk assessments enough to keep lone workers safe?

A risk assessment is an excellent method of identifying, and hopefully avoiding, potential hazards to lone workers, but it isn’t enough by itself. To properly ensure the safety of your workers, and your reputation, you need to take further steps to proactively manage risk.

Training and awareness

Most organisations will have a dedicated Health and Safety Manager but, while it’s important to have someone taking overall responsibility for safety, it’s important to ensure that employees don’t think that they can shirk their own responsibilities onto an H&S Manager; everyone, from interns to directors,has a duty to maintaining occupational health and safety.

For this reason, it is vital that staff should be fully trained before being entrusted to work alone. Training not only ensures the work undertaken is done to the highest standard possible, but also ensures the worker is aware of the potential risks and their own responsibilities in ensuring that they are safe whilst undertaking their duties.

Having an understanding of what steps need to be taken in an emergency is a vital responsibility of an employee, but it is the role of the employer to certify that, should an incident occur, all members of staff know what to do and how to do it.

Training and awareness of responsibilities are so important that they form a huge part of health and safety management systems, which are also an excellent method of ensuring that your lone workers are kept safe.

Health & Safety Management Systems

Lone workers can be further protected by a comprehensive framework that creates a culture of proactive risk avoidance, training and awareness, and ensures that everyone is aware of their own responsibilities for health and safety. Establishing such a framework via a health & safety management system, such as that certified by ISO 45001:

  • your business meets the requirements of an internationally recognised health and safety management standard
  • your organisation is set up for ongoing improvement to its health and safety procedures, reassuring both your customers and workers of your dedication to safety
  • your organisation is better positioned to win new contracts and customers
  • all members of your organisation, no matter their seniority, are aware of their responsibilities through comprehensive, regular training and awareness.

Technology

Unlike a team environment, where a risk or accident is likely to be spotted quickly, lone workers are particularly susceptible to risks that leave them needing help which might not be available to them.

But whereas this could previously only be avoided, now technology has advanced to a degree that others can be alerted in the event of an accident. Smartphones and watches are filled with sensors that can monitor heart rates and even falls, and providers such as StaySafe have created apps and even dedicated wearables that can alert employers to the possibility of an accident.

In fact, such solutions can provide benefits beyond falls or serious accidents. Lone workers who perform strenuous activities can ensure their heart rate remains within normal parameters, and even lone office workers can be reminded not to sit for the long periods that can lead to back problems or deep vein thrombosis.

Better safe than sorry

In every stage of work – from the start of the day to the completion of the job – safety remains at the centre of everything. From making the appropriate risk assessment, to taking proactive steps to preventing accidents, every effort must be made to keep lone workers free from injury.

To find out more about health and safety in the workplace, and how ISO 45001 can help, take our free eLearning course or, if you’re ready to take your organisation even further, contact us today for a quote.

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Written by Lee Styles

HSMS Scheme Manager - Company expert for 'Occupational Health and Safety' Standards; OHSAS 18001 and ISO 45001. Additional assessment expertise for the following standards; ISO 9001, ISO 14001 and ISO 27001.

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