A plumber from Darlington found a grenade while he was working in the loft of a derelict house. He was fortunate that the device turned out to be a training aid – and not the real thing. It pays to take care when working alone.
There are no absolute restrictions on working alone but under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 employers have a duty of care to ensure the health, safety and welfare of their employees while they are at work.
In addition, the Management of Health and Safety at work Regulations 1999: Regulation 3 states that every employer shall make a suitable and sufficient assessment of –
- the risks to the health and safety of his employees to which they are exposed while they are at work; and
- the risks to the health and safety of persons not in his employment arising out of or in connection with the conduct by him of his undertaking
Although there is no general legal prohibition on working alone, the broad duties of the HSW Act and MHSW Regulations still apply. These require identifying hazards of the work, assessing the risks involved, and putting measures in place to avoid or control the risks.
Control measures may include instruction, training, supervision, protective equipment and so on. Employers should take steps to check that control measures are used and review the risk assessment from time to time to ensure it is still adequate.
Lone workers shouldn’t be at more risk than other employees. This may require extra risk-control measures. Precautions should take account of normal work and foreseeable emergencies, eg fire, equipment failure, illness and accidents. Employers should identify situations where people work alone and ask questions such as:
- Does the workplace present a special risk to the lone worker?
- Is there a safe way in and a way out for one person? Can any temporary access equipment which is necessary, such as portable ladders or trestles, be safely handled by one person?
- Can all the plant, substances and goods involved in the work be safely handled by one person? Consider whether the work involves lifting objects too large for one person or whether more than one person is needed to operate essential controls for the safe running of equipment.
- Is there a risk of violence?
- Are women especially at risk if they work alone?
- Are young workers especially at risk if they work alone?
- Is the person medically fit and suitable to work alone?
- What happens if the person becomes ill, has an accident or there is an emergency?
The list does not include assessing the probability of finding a grenade!