Q: I was just informed on another forum that legally you had to have two staff on duty at all times in retail. Seems strange. How then does this work if you are a sole trader and have a small shop with only you in it?

A: It will often be safe to work alone. However, the law requires employers to think about and deal with any health and safety risks before people are allowed to do so.

Establishing a healthy and safe working environment for lone workers can be different from organising the health and safety of other employees. Lone workers should not be put at more risk than other people working for you. Things you could consider to help ensure lone workers are not put at risk include:

  • Assessing areas of risk including violence, manual handling, the medical suitability of the individual to work alone and whether the workplace itself presents a risk to them
  • Requirements for training, levels of experience and how best to monitor and supervise them
  • Making sure you know what is happening, including having systems in place to keep in touch with them

The Health and Safety Executive have produced guidance entitled ‘Health and safety guidance on the risks of lone working for employers about lone working‘. Following the guidance in the leaflet is not compulsory, but it should help employers to understand what they need to do to comply with their legal duties towards lone workers under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

Risk assessment should help employers decide on the right level of supervision. There are some high-risk activities where at least one other person may need to be present. Examples include:

● Working in a confined space, where a supervisor may need to be present, along with someone dedicated to the rescue role

● Working at or near exposed live electricity conductors

● Working in the health and social care sector dealing with unpredictable client behaviour and situations

Employers also need to be aware of any specific law that prohibits lone working applying in their industry. Examples include supervision in diving operations, vehicles carrying explosives and fumigation work.

Jayne Harrison is partner and head of employment law at Richard Nelson LLP.

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