Lone workers make up a large part of the agricultural workforce in the UK. Did you know live tracking of them is not actually a legal requirement? While it’s a great option for some, your legal obligation as an employer is to keep lone workers healthy and safe, just as you do all other workers, taking in to account the risks of working alone.
A bit of background information
According to the definition provided by HSE in their Protecting lone workers guide, it’s reasonable to assume many workers in agriculture would be considered lone workers as they could be ‘someone who works by themselves, without close or direct supervision’. Farm workers, delivery drivers including HGV drivers, van drivers and couriers would all fit this definition.
Lone work can involve long, unsociable hours, have high physical and mental demands, and for jobs like HGV drivers can mean long hours of sedentary work. There are also potential risks such as violence and manual handling. Each individual is different so you need to consider the individual as well as the role or task when considering the risks.
How do I manage the risk?
While it’s not necessary to do a separate risk assessment just for lone workers, you do need to consider the particular risks faced by lone workers in your risk assessing process.
Think about who is going to work alone, and what hazards exist that could cause harm. Wherever possible, avoid anyone having to work alone. If this is not an option, consider the capabilities and training of those undertaking the task and ensure they have been trained in not only the task, but how to keep themselves safe while working alone.
The medical suitability of someone who is going to be a lone worker is a factor in the risk assessment process. Some jobs may have physical demands that may preclude some individuals with pre-existing medical conditions from safely performing them. Think about what training and experience an individual has, and how best to supervise or monitor them.
Some of the risks to consider include:
- violence in the workplace
- stress and mental health/wellbeing
- medical suitability of the person to work alone
- the workplace itself
- the work being done
There are high-risk tasks which require another person to be present, such as working in a confined space, near exposed electrical conductors, carrying anything explosive or fumigation. These types of work must not be done by a worker on their own.
You have an obligation to train, supervise and monitor lone workers, as well as keeping in touch and responding to any incident. This is where some think it is mandatory to have monitoring gadgets or devices, however this is not a regulatory requirement. The requirements to train, supervise and monitor workers can be achieved in various ways, and employers should consider multiple options rather than rely on a single approach.
There are some great technological solutions which can assist employers – the most obvious one being the mobile phone. As simple as it seems, using a mobile phone can be a significant part of your strategy to supervise and monitor lone workers but should not be the only control. Of course, relying on phones is only as good as your mobile phone coverage, so think about where your workers may be and what the mobile reception is like there.
Apps on smartphones are also a great way to provide support to lone workers. The Safe Ag Systems app allows workers to let you know when they are at work, you can see there last known location and allows lone workers to notify of an incident so you are able to respond accordingly. The Emergency Page within the app gives the worker the option to notify everyone on farm of a problem, call 999, call a key emergency contact, access chemical safety data sheets and important information in the event of an emergency.
If lone workers are going to be working in an area with little or no mobile phone coverage, you need to find other ways to supervise and monitor. Some ideas include:
- have two or more people working together or in close proximity
- use of radios or other communication means
- know where your workers are and what time they will finish
- have pre determined check-in times
- determine when supervisors should visit lone workers
- make sure the worker is aware of any risks they may face
- let them know it’s OK to stop work if they feel unsafe – set the boundaries of when to stop and seek help, and create a supportive culture so no one feels they need to take unnecessary risks
Talk with those who work alone – they will know the hazards to be considered and have ideas on the best way to control the risk, as they are the ones doing the work. You should also check records to see if there are any learnings from past incidents involving lone workers.
Make sure lone workers have first aid kits and know how to administer first aid including on themselves. Workers need know who they should contact in the event of an emergency and what the emergency procedures are, including having contact numbers available. If a worker has a known medical issue, for example allergic reactions or asthma, ensure they have appropriate supplies such as auto-injectors and respiratory relievers with them at all times.
What can or should I do now?
If you haven’t already done so, complete or review your risk assessment particularly around lone workers. Have conversations with your employees to find out if there’s anything they can add regarding risks and controls.
And if you want to use an app built by farmers, for farmers, check out www.safeagsystems.com for all your health and safety needs.
This content has been contributed by Safe Ag Systems; the views, thoughts and opinions expressed in this text belong solely to the author, and do not necessarily reflect those of Agri-TechE.