The workplace has changed considerably during my career and the days of going into the office at 8 and leaving at 5 are over. Customers expect more flexibility as do workers themselves. Remote working will increase significantly in the next few years and employers will need to manage this change effectively. The advancement in technology has undoubtedly facilitated the drive of remote working with improved time-management, communication and productivity software. However, another important factor is generation Z. This year it is estimated that 36% of the workforce will comprise generation Z young adults. Whilst previous generations of workers related to their predecessors relatively easily, GenZ is the first generation to grow up with advanced modern technology. They expect the businesses that they work for to embrace new technology and with it a more flexible approach to working. This generation are more likely to expect remote working, at least on a part-time basis, as part of an employee package. Microsoft experimented with a 4-day working week and found productivity increased by 40%.
An important factor for every employer to consider in respect of remote working is the health and safety of the employee in such situations. A lone worker is someone who works by themselves without close or direct supervision. It can include people who work at a fixed location such as a small shop or petrol station or those working at premises outside normal working hours. It also includes employees working at home and those that work away from a fixed base such as healthcare workers visiting patient’s homes and staff making deliveries. Another change in the workforce over recent years has been the increase in older workers and employers need to think differently when considering how to keep them healthy and safe at work.
Working alone will often be safe but employers must assess the risks which may be present and eliminate those risks or reduce them as far as reasonably practicable. Technology can be very helpful in these situations, but you also need to be cautious about placing too much reliance on technology. Tech can malfunction, batteries fail, and it can give a false sense of security – we have all read about incidents where drivers have relied on satellite navigation devices and ended up in a river! Nearly every employee will have a mobile telephone and this can help in keeping them safe while remote working but consider any areas which may not have a mobile signal and provide training and instruction to employees so they are aware of the risks and can take precautions.
Unfortunately, we live in a society where violence can be a real risk associated with certain job roles and activities. The recently published updated guidance on lone working by the Health and Safety Executive includes the risk of violence as a factor which employers must consider. The potential of violent situations is not just related to specific professions but can occur in many other jobs such as road rage effecting delivery drivers and other travelling workers.
Whilst there is no legal requirement to conduct a specific, separate risk assessment for lone workers, employers must include risks to lone workers in their general risk assessment and take steps to avoid or control those risks. This must include:
- involving workers when considering potential risks and measures to control them,
- taking steps to ensure risks are removed where possible, or putting in place control measures, for example by carefully selecting work equipment to ensure the worker can perform what is required safely,
- instruction, training and supervision,
- reviewing risk assessments periodically and updating them after any significant changes, such as new staff, processes or equipment,
- when the lone worker is working at another employer’s workplace, consulting with that employer to identify any risks and required control measures.
Lone working can negatively impact upon employees’ work-related stress and their mental health, so it is important for employers to consider what procedures and support are required. Regular communication between the lone worker, their manager and other workers can be really beneficial. Managers and co-workers should be able to identify abnormal behaviour which could indicate that a lone worker may need help. If communication is poor, workers feel disengaged, isolated and abandoned which impacts on their stress levels and mental wellbeing.
Employers should implement systems for raising help quickly in the case of an emergency or accident. Often the risk assessment may indicate that lone workers should be equipped with a first aid kit and appropriate training. Also, there should be clear procedures in place should a lone worker become uncontactable or fail to check in when expected.
Lone working activities take place every day and often they are carried out safely without incident. By considering the risks associated with lone working in your business the chances of an incident occurring can be reduced further ensuring your staff are safe.
Mark Stouph, Consultant, Regulatory