Accidents At Work – Employer’s Duties.

Health And Safety Accidents Emphasises Employer’s Duties

Out of sight, out of mind?

The Health and Safety Executive, concerned for the safety of ‘lone workers’, has recently published new guidelines for employers that emphasises that out of sight should never mean ‘out of mind’ in a working environment.

The guidance reinforces the concept of the employer’s duty to ensure that lone workers are properly assessed to consider all the risks that are peculiar to a lone working environment. These issues include:

  • The fact that there is nobody to report incidents to or to detect fatalities, particularly in high risk areas
  • Omissions on the hand over of duties
  • An increased threat of violence, risk of fraud or dishonest activity
  • Consideration of the impact of a lone worker’s medical condition
  • Risk of employees ‘cutting corners’ or unsafe practices developing owing to a lack of supervision
  • Workers trying to continue operating using defective equipment or work stations

The HSE considers that lone workers are particularly vulnerable and should be consulted on the assessment. They also emphasise that lone workers should also be fully trained in any areas identified as a potential risk, and that measures should be enforced to ensure that lone workers are not put at risk. These may include identifying jobs that are prohibited when working alone, such as lifting heavy objects or operating at height without adequate safety equipment or an assessment of the situation beforehand.

The greatest issue is the lack of supervision. Obviously, employers have to be able to trust their employees to operate in the safest ways possible, but this isn’t always the case in real life. The lack of supervision also leaves another door open – the risk of fraudulent compensation claims for injuries suffered while working alone. Often, claims result from non-reported accidents at work, and leave the employer at a distinct disadvantage. That is not to say that every claim by a lone worker is fraudulent – what it means is that lone workers often do not have the same ability to report an accident and have it documented in the same way that an accident in a workplace where there are other employees present does. Lone workers don’t have their own ‘accident book’, and one of the most essential pieces of any claims jigsaw is hard evidence.

Although this may seem to put employers on the back foot when it comes to fulfilling their duty of care to lone workers, there are ways that the risk of a lone worker suffering an accident can be minimised. If an employer knows that their workers are going to be operating in a solo situation, a complete risk assessment and (if necessary) controlling measures need to be implemented. If this isn’t done, then the worker has a legitimate grievance in the event of an accident and a claim can and should be pursued. If not just for the financial aspect of the claim, then to prevent another lone worker from suffering a similar fate.

Out of sight should never mean out of mind in a work situation. The duty of care responsibilities of every employer extend to all employees in their care, whether they’re working with others or on their own. The HSE has made it quite clear that they will take a strong, disciplinary line with employers who adopt an out of sight, out of mind approach to worker’s safety and that claimants have every right to expect the same treatment in law as those who work in more clearly defined working environments. As the number of people working from home and in solo positions rises, it is an issue that will continue to have the HSE spotlight shined directly onto it.

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