The subject of lone working has been problematic for many years, although recent technology has greatly improved matters, from the ‘old days’, certainly when I started out 54 years ago!
I thought nothing of carrying gelignite, cyanide, petrol, arsenic and similar lethal materials in my van in the late 60s. Add hydrochloric acid to that list…
Frequently operating a chain saw, on my own, wearing trainers and shorts, with no gloves, face mask or ear defenders, Health & Safety was for others, never myself. Unfortunately, there are still many people who continue to work in such dangerous ways, although nowadays, nobody can acquire explosives and poisons as easily as fifty years ago.
Gelignite for working on solid chalk banks, carving gardens from the cliff face, arsenic for moles, cyanide for wasp nests and hydrochloric acid for cleaning weathered and blackened bricks and stone………..
Recent history has thrown up some disturbing cases of lone working, as the Suzy Lamplugh Trust will attest. They offer personal advice through their National Stalking Helpline, for anyone who needs to consider a policy to protect individuals and employed staff.
This article is written to cover a number of different scenarios involving lone working, and I will not dwell on stalking, as this has been well covered by the Trust.
I am not a qualified Health & Safety Officer. All of my comments and observations are personal, and should not be treated as unqualified. Any guidance contained in these words is only intended to make the reader aware of potential circumstances, and any advice is given in a general manner only. It is up to the reader to make their own decisions at any time, in any place.
SELF EMPLOYED LONE WORKING
I suggest that the majority of individuals working as self-employed gardeners and landscapers, will at some time, find themselves working on their own, with no colleagues, customers or neighbours around to call upon in case of emergency. In fact, it is likely to be most of the time, either operating a mowing machine or hedge-cutter, weeding borders or forking through beds. The majority will however, have a back-up facility, where somebody will know which site you are working on at any given time. Someone, somewhere, should know your daily routine, even if they may not know precise times and locations.
There are tens of thousands of such individuals engaged in the horticultural industry as gardeners, landscapers, nursery and estate workers, all of whom are liable to become subject to an accident or other life-threatening situation e.g. health failure/heart attack which can strike at any time. It is therefore extremely important to mitigate as many dangerous situations as possible.
Home/office connections Ensure that somebody, if possible, is aware of your daily routine and site locations. These may include addresses and site telephone numbers, as well as details of the customer. (Make a note too, of any disabilities including slowness/old age of the customer, as they may not hear the telephone ringing in case of emergency).
Site locations are very important, as in the event of an emergency call, the worker on site may not be able to communicate with the home/office contact. (There is an app called what3words which is available free on-line, which identifies a precise location based on information supplied to the server). A similar service is available through the Ordinance Survey GPS maps, which will also provide you with a precise location. These figures and numbers are vital to pass on to the emergency services including helicopter ambulances.
Equipment safety checks. Before operating any machinery or mechanised equipment, ensure that an inspection is carried out, including and especially loose bolts, guards and belts. Check all points of lubrication and ensure that all fuel containers are in good condition, with the correct fuel mix and a safety funnel is employed to prevent spills. Check for stones and other debris that may be trapped under the cutting beds, examine the condition of any electrical cables and ensure that battery operated equipment is fit for purpose with no cracks or damage to casings.
If transporting heavy equipment e.g. mowers, ensure your loading ramps are in good order, able to be securely attached. Consider fitting a battery-operated winch into the back of the van or trailer. Ensure all loading ties, straps and floor securing points are in good order.
Site safety checks. If cutting a hedge, walk the length to see if there are any impediments including cables, wires, wasp nests, metal or timber stakes or anything at all that may have been introduced into the hedge since it was last cut. Check both sides and top.
Walk any areas designated to be mown, especially longer/taller grass sections, to ensure that there is no debris, including balls (especially golf balls), stones, mole hills, wires etc that may affect the safe use of the machine you will be operating. Different types of blade and cutting action will require different logic. Rotary mowers may throw debris further and faster than cylinder blades. Some may throw sideways, others from the front or rear of the machine.
When working on slopes, take care to prevent slipping, especially when using a machine of any kind. Footwear should be appropriate to the conditions, with steel toe-caps and heavy treads to gain the best possible grip.
On some sites, it may be desirable/essential to have a ‘sharps box’ and safety gloves/glasses if blades or needles may be present or discovered.
ALL OF THESE PRE-WORKING INSPECTIONS SHOULD FORM PART OF YOUR SITE VISIT AND CHARGED FOR ACCORDINGLY.
Method Statements. If you are undertaking ‘projects’ as opposed to regular routine maintenance, consider producing a method statement, which is a form of ‘story-board’, detailing the works involved in a specific manner. This formula should include the following information to be established and identified prior to providing a quotation, namely What, Why, Where, When, How and Who?
What is the job? Describe in as much detail as may be required. For example, cutting a tall hedge. Why do you want to cut the hedge? Because it is too tall and has become overgrown.
Where is the job? Perhaps alongside a country lane, with regular fast moving traffic. Clearly identify the location and scale of the project, including current height, width and length. Also include any comments regarding level ground/slopes and perhaps consider the use of temporary traffic lights or manually operated controls. When does the job need doing? After nesting season, before leaf-fall or after, or as and when labour is available (including Banksmen to control traffic and foot ladders) How? This is the key question. Set out, in detail, how you intend to carry out the works. This will include a statement of clearance and disposal or arisings, including method of transport and handling.
Who? You should produce a schedule of involved staff, including their role, qualifications and suitability to undertake their allotted tasks. One person will need to take responsibility for the production of the project evaluation and proposed working methodology.
This Method Statement should also include a set of Risk Assessments suited to each and every section of the proposed works. By combining the two – the story of the project and a set of assessments showing that you have considered the job as a whole, and taken all reasonable precautions to prevent any likely problems, you will have provided a professional service to both workers and customer.
How does this fit in with Lone Working? By undertaking such research, you will have identified and mitigated any likelihood of dangers that may occur if any single party is working alone on any part of the project. (Method Statements may be undertaken by employed staff as well as self-employed)
Landscapers using power tools should be in possession on any formal training certificates as required by the equipment in use. Anyone untrained and those not holding formal qualifications should not use power tools without qualified supervision. All such equipment must be maintained in good working order, and subjected to annual inspection and certification as appropriate.
Hand tools such as chisels should be maintained in sharp condition, to avoid ‘skipping’ and slipping when in use.
Personal protective equipment may include steel toe-capped boots, heavy duty goggles or safety glasses, heavy duty gloves and ear defenders when using sharp or dangerous tools.
When using such equipment as a lone worker, ensure that your access is not impeded in any way, with a clear and defined route to safety is noted and considered before starting work.
Chain saws in particular may be considered one of the most dangerous tools on site. It is strongly advised that chain saws are not used by lone workers. Certain types of long reach chain saw – those at the end of an extendable pole – may be considered reasonably safe, as the blade is at a distance from the body. However, accidents may occur if a branch causes the machine blade to twist, shaft to disconnect, or branch to break off and fall on the operator.
Therefore, is important that the maxim that everybody is responsible for their own Health & Safety and well as that of others is recognised and maintained. Lone Workers have a special responsibility to themselves to ensure that all safety measures are in place, and are subject to personal scrutiny and assessment before proceeding with any work.
EMPLOYED PERSON LONE WORKING
All of the above comments are applicable to employees, with the added scrutiny incumbent on all employers who are obliged, by Law, to offer every assistance to their staff and compile due compliance documentation to prove their diligence. This is usually manifested by a series of Safety documents, including and especially formal Health & Safety training, risk assessments and working practice method statements, which may be generic or specific, and are renewed/revised on an annual basis and in a formal manner, with each employee signing to say they have read and understood the various elements of the subject.
Every employer should have a Lone Worker Policy included in that documentation, for use as and when required.
As there are so many varying sets of circumstances in which a person may be working alone – even in a restricted area if that worker cannot be seen and monitored by their workmates – a few essential rules should be in place.
- Each employee should be issued with a full set of personal protective equipment (PPE) suited to the task in hand.
- Each employee should have a suitable means of communication in good working order, with enough battery power to last for the duration of the working period. This may be a radio, mobile telephone or similar electronic form of communication. (Or a suitable audio device e.g air horn warning instrument in some noisy circumstances)
- A first aid kit, large enough and suitable for the purpose of the type of work being undertaken, to include an eye washing fluid.
- Hi-viz safety jacket and trousers (as required by the work) as well as full PPE.
It is recommended that lone working should be avoided if at all possible. This policy may be simplified if the range of tasks undertaken on a particular site are assessed and re-evaluated to establish if lone working can be reduced as much as possible by working in teams on a regular basis.
TYPES OF LONE WORKER – General description.
Work as individuals at a fixed site, but are separated from others.
Work in a remote location.
Work alone away from the site e.g. attending a meeting off-site.
Work outside of normal hours e.g. attending an evening meeting or weekend event.
Travel alone as part of their work.
HAZARDS MAY INCLUDE; (All risks as previously mentioned, plus)
Working at height.
Lack of peer support.
Manual handling and use of machinery.
Potential violence from clients or members of the public.
Visiting high risk locations.
Working alone in gardens or buildings.
Security or fire risks.
Potential risk of allegations against staff or clients.
This is a very wide-ranging list of potential hazards, and is shown to illustrate the importance of having a strict Lone Worker Policy in place.
WORKING FROM HOME
As more and more people are working from home, it should not be forgotten that those individuals are also subject to protection by their employers. Almost 50% of UK employees worked from home at some stage during 2020, and it should be known that employers have the same responsibilities regarding Health & Safety for a home worker as any other employee.
There are two main factors involved in Home Lone Working. Obviously, an employer has no control of the working environment of those employees who elect to work from home. However, a risk assessment template should be given to each employee, highlighting various hazardous situations that may occur, and attempt to mitigate them as far as possible (There are bound to be many Court cases/claims coming along in due course in my opinion!).
I suggest the most obvious checks that an employer can make on home workers is that of communication/signing on via computers and telephones, with regular checks regarding any stresses and personal problems (including type and comfort of work space/seating/visual aids, whereby the employer could help to mitigate any issues by providing suitable alternatives, such as ergonomic chairs and height adjustable desks, much as they would in a general fixed office environment).
Other Health & Safety issues surrounding Lone Working From Home may include work related stress, social anxiety, burnout and feelings of isolation.
Therefore, if you have any staff who are working from home, please bear in mind that problems for lone workers may extend well beyond the obvious physical hazards in our industry.
LONE WORKING POLICY SUMMARY
Top Ten Policy Pointers
- Communication and knowing who is working where, and when.
- Maintain tools & equipment in good working order. (Provide evidence if required)
- Ensure first aid training is undertaken, and a suitable kit is available on site.
- Conduct project risk assessments and method statements on a regular basis.
- Ensure clean working conditions, and a safe, clear escape route at all times.
- Recognise the causes of stress, isolation and lack of peer support in lone working.
- Conduct site safety checks according to the job in hand. (Record the results)
- Ensure personal protective equipment is available in good order. (Record condition)
- Everybody is responsible for their own Health & Safety, and that of others.
- AVOID LONE WORKING WHENEVER POSSIBLE
Alan Sargent FCIHort FPGCA
Landscape Library 2022
(With due and grateful thanks to The APL for their input in this article)