It’s the law: the employer is legally bound to ensure the safety of lone workers in the construction industry   

Keeping lone construction workers safe

More than 6 million people in the UK work alone, with no one to supervise or work with them – and no one to raise the alarm if they get into difficulties. For many of those 6 million people, this is not a problem. The kind of work they do is not hazardous, and they are less likely to need assistance than the 20,000 people who go to A&E every year in the UK as a result of falling out of bed. This figure comes from statistics released by the NHS Information Centre. Only 6,400 needed A&E’s assistance after falling off ladders, so getting out of bed obviously requires more attention and care than most of us are giving it. But there’s one category for whom working alone can be hazardous, and that is construction industry workers.

The equipment they use can be dangerous. The conditions in which they find themselves can be dangerous. Construction workers move around, and the risk rises every time someone goes to a new and unfamiliar site. A worker can fall over or accidentally cut themselves, or even be subject to an attack – construction sites are usually full of valuable materials that are not nailed down.

Whatever happens, lone construction workers need a way to call for assistance. Even if a lone worker never comes under attack nor has an accident, just the knowledge that they are not completely out of touch and can call for help when they need it makes them more confident. And confident workers do better work.       

For the employer, there’s another side to this. Guidelines issued by the Sentencing Council mean that, since 1st February last year, employers who fail in their duty of care towards both employees and non-employees have been subject to much higher fines than had previously been the case. A large organisation found guilty in a Category 1 incident may be looking at a large fine, while smaller organisations found guilty of less serious breaches can still be fined a considerable sum. In today’s market, a number of construction companies could not withstand a hit like that, so the reason for extra vigilance and assistance is not just humanitarian, it could mean the survival of the company.

One of the legal requirements for employers is to carry out a risk assessment and to ensure that strategies are in place to make the lone worker’s work environment as safe as it can be. Another is to ensure that the lone worker has “the relevant resources, training and information to work safely while alone.”

There are devices and apps that help employers to meet these obligations. Lone worker devices carry out two functions:

  • They enable the lone worker to call for assistance when needed
  • They have the facility to collect information for use as evidence in any subsequent enquiry.

The device sends a message to an Alarm Receiving Centre, so that the necessary emergency response to an alarm call can be made as fast as possible. Good devices also make it possible for the employee to inform the Alarm Receiving Centre that she or he is about to enter a potentially dangerous area.  

These devices only work properly if the employee is trained in their use, but the employer also needs awareness – primarily of British Standard BS 8484, which governs Lone Worker Services. Employers should ensure that the Alarm Receiving Centre they choose complies with this standard in every respect.

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