Demonstrating Duty of Care to Lone Workers

Michael Carrington, a Director for Romtrac, the provider of lone worker personal safety and workforce management solutions says the long arm of the law reaches into every business in the UK, with the aim of guiding them to promote better business working practices.

“Many such laws that are introduced by Parliament tend to affect just one sector, however one new law is set to have a blanket affect on all industries in the UK, and this is the upcoming Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act.

The Act was scheduled for amendment following several high profile incidents, including the attempted prosecution of Balfour Beatty following the Hatfield train disaster. It was all but impossible to successfully prosecute companies implicated through negligence in the death of either employees or members of the public. The amended Act makes it far easier to prosecute companies, by placing the weight of the employer’s duty of care to its employees firmly on the shoulders of the company bosses. The onus will be on employers to demonstrate that they have taken their duty of care to employees seriously. The Act has recently been sanctioned by parliament, and on the 6th April 2008 it will become law. From that date companies are more likely to face prosecution for manslaughter, and an unlimited fine, if they are found to be in breach of this legislation.

One of the most pressing concerns regarding this new law for UK employers is the protection of lone and remote workers, who by virtue of working alone are harder to protect and are at greater risk. This sort of worker can be found in many different industries in the UK, representing a considerable area of risk for employers. Lone employees are often placed in some of the most dangerous situations – think probation officer on duty or even a traffic warden. But despite how common lone working is, the risks of this sort of job are all too often overlooked or trivialised and must be considered thoroughly in order to plan for a lone workers safety and security.

There were 339,000 threats of violence and 317,000 physical assaults on British workers in 2005, according to the British Crime Survey.

It’s hard enough to control exposure to risk in a conventional workplace, let alone when workers are out and about. With the upcoming Act set to really shake up health and safety in the workplace, the lone worker segment is crying out for methods to keep them safe. One method that presents an opportunity for employers to demonstrate that they take their duty of care to their employees seriously is through mobile devices.

When you consider the risks lone workers are exposed to it surprising that some form of solution isn’t offered as standard for lone worker occupations. In fact, mobile devices have been recommended by The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) as a good a way of protecting lone workers. However, with the new legislation on the horizon, it is likely that companies will need to do more, using focused solutions geared to support lone workers exposed to potential emergency situations.

It’s not just the HSE that believes protecting lone workers with personal devices can ensure safety in the workplace. At September’s Labour Party Conference, Health Secretary Alan Johnson revealed plans for new measures to protect NHS staff working alone and in vulnerable situations as part of a £97 million boost to the NHS security budget. As a part of this, the Government is investing £29 million investment to equip lone workers in the NHS with personal safety devices. The need for this investment was highlighted by Health Secretary Alan Johnson at the recent Labour Party conference, who said, “Over 58,000 NHS staff were physically assaulted by patients and relatives in England in 2005-06.”

For a solution to be successful, employers must consider the most important aspects of protecting the lone workforce, such as location, two-way communication and identification. Without addressing these issues employees may fall foul of accusations of ethical neglect and malpractice, leaving them wide open to prosecution under the incoming Act.”