The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has confirmed that it will review its lone worker guidance after Barbara Hockey gave the keynote address at this year’s Lone Worker Safety Conference in October and announced a welcome review of the Lone Worker Guidance produced by the HSE.
The leaflet ‘Working Alone: Health and safety guidance on the risks’ (INDG73) was last updated in 2012 but the way in which people lone work, where they work and the activities they carry out whilst doing so have changed considerably since then.
Barbara began her address with an acknowledgement of this. “We all know that the world of work is changing and as the regulator for health and safety in the workplace, we also need to adapt.
“Lone Workers make up an increasing and important part of the workforce, within a range of roles and sectors. Although there are no specific regulations relating to lone workers the HSE has always recognised that this group of workers can be at higher risk”.
Barbara explained what has prompted this review of the guidance. “Last year when I was asked to give a presentation at the Lone Worker Safety Conference. I focused on outlining the policy position for HSE, how we regulate and signposting to our guidance.
“But during the day, listening to the other presentations and talking to many of the delegates, I recognised that with the number of lone workers rising across all the sectors, the different types of work that people are doing, the issues around the gig economy and the impact on the mental health and wellbeing, we needed to review what our offer is, what we do and the advice that we give to employers”.
Barbara went on to explain how she went back to her team and looked at the guidance provided by the HSE and although she recognised that the advice was still sound, with a new Chief Executive in post and a new strategy for the HSE in 2020, it was timely to look at it now.
So, since the conference last October, the HSE have been working with stakeholders including trade bodies, trade unions, small and large businesses, industry contacts and people who attended last year’sthe 2018 Lone Worker Conference, to comprehensively refresh and review their lone worker guidance.
“It was really useful to have the insight into what those people who work within a lone worker environment were actually facing. And how technological changes, the different type of employment contracts and the way people work actually impact.
“There are now approximately 3 million people who are classed as ‘gig’ workers and about half of those workers are under the age of thirty-five, so it’s likely that that might be the working model for the rest of their careers, very different from the traditional working environment.
“For some gig workers the benefits can be the variety and flexibility of their work, being able to choose what they do and when they work. But for many others, particularly those on lower incomes, the reality can be quite different with negative health and safety implications. The main health problems we have identified so far areis work- related stress and other mental health issues and the safety risks associated with fatigue and an increase in occupational injuries such as manual handling injuries for delivery drivers.”
Barbara explained some of the challenges that the gig economy poses, “For the HSE this creates challenges on location- based regulatory activity and how we hold the right people to account.”
Barbara continued by talking about recent research carried out by the HSE into the impact of an aging population and the associated aging workforce. In 1992 56% of people over the age of 50 were in work, today that figure has risen to 72%. By 2050 it is estimated that 40% of the UK’s workforce will have some form of long-term health condition.
“You do not just become a risk because you are older, but accidents experienced by older workers are more likely to result in more serious outcomes. The research suggests this is likely to be due to a more general physical deterioration as people age. The likelihood is that due to underlying health conditions there may be less favourable outcomes following an accident.”.
The revised HSE Lone Worker Guidance will reflect the developments in these two areas along with other changes. When explaining the revisions to the conference attendees, Barbara noted that is was hard to meet all stakeholders’ expectations. The HSE have a particular house style and their guidance encourages and empowers employees to do their own assessment of risk and take proactive steps based on this guidance; it will not be prescriptive.