Vulnerable workers: identifying and protecting them

Home ADVICE & GUIDANCE Vulnerable workers: identifying and protecting them
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As an employer you need to keep in mind that vulnerable workers are at a higher risk than others to suffer an injury, illness or fatality at work. Reasonable adjustments may need to be considered to ensure their protection.

Health and Safety prosecutions are always a last thing on your mind when an incident occurs on your premises. A few recent examples of persecutions against employers that involved vulnerable workers:

January  2016

On his first day of full time employment a 21-year-old inexperienced agency worker was exposed to alkaline cement slurry by standing in a drainage pit with inadequate Personal Protective Equipment.

The employer pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and was fined £12,000 and ordered to pay costs of £2,121.

October 2015

A new starter who was three weeks into their employment suffered fatal crush injuries when his clothing got caught in a machine which was used to apply adhesive tape to bars to stop corrosion. Unfortunately the father of two was killed in this incident.

The employer pleaded guilty to breaches of Section 2 and Section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act etc 1974 and was fined a total of £200,000. It must also pay £16,804 in costs.

May 2015

Whilst carrying out refurbishment work involving installing metal brackets for new roof joists, a Lithuanian worker fell nearly eight meters to his death.  When the incident happened he was working alone when he fell from the wall, due to a complete lack of safety measures being in place. Another employee had also fallen from a height and broken his leg at the same site, an accident which was not reported to HSE.

There were three prosecutions for this incident:

  • sentenced to prison for 45 weeks,
  • sentenced to 24 weeks imprisonment suspended for 2 years and ordered to pay £20,000 towards prosecution costs,
  • 120 hours unpaid work and ordered to pay £3,900 towards prosecution costs.

Employers have a duty to all their employees to protect their health, safety and welfare by ensuring:

  • Risk assessments are carried out to so that those activities which pose a significant risk to health, safety and the environment have had the hazards eliminated or the risk reduced or controlled through the implementation of appropriate control measures,
  • Those risks assessments that effect your employees health and safety during their job is communicated effectively,
  • If needed as a last resort, personal protective equipment (PPE). This includes clothing which is suitable for the weather conditions that your employees may be subject to,
  • That employees who are required to drive or operate machinery as part of their job have been suitably trained,
  • Where equipment is required to carry out the job, this should be suitable and maintained as per the manufactures instructions,
  • They have Employer’s Liability Insurance in place and display in a prominent location,
  • They consider vulnerable workers when carrying out risk assessments by identifying where vulnerable workers are an at risk group or assessing the needs of an individual vulnerable worker to ensuring all health and safety risks are properly controlled and managed.
  • Risk assessments that are included in the process:
    • General Risk assessments;
    • Manual Handling assessments;
    • Fire Risk Assessments;
    • COSHH Assessments;
    • First Aid Needs Assessments

There are a number of different groups that can be classed as vulnerable in different areas of the workplace, a few examples:

Workers with Different Race, Language and Cultural Background

  • Whether your foreign employees are working in Britain legally or not, they are still protected under GB health and safety law,
  • Ensure that the information, instruction and training you provide is clear and that all your employees understand what it is you are asking of them. You may have to translate instructions to the first language of your foreign employees,
  • Where you have safety signs in your workplace, ensure that all employees understand what they mean,
  • Where you have required vocational qualifications, ensure they are compatible with those in Britain,
  • Consider basic competencies, eg relevant work experience, literacy, numeracy, physical attributes,
  • Ensure that an experienced supervisor is able to effectively communicate with your employees and they understand each other.

New and Expectant Mothers

  • Your current risk assessments should already consider all risks to female employees of childbearing age particularly if they are pregnant or breastfeeding,
  • Consider the following risk:
  • working conditions;
  • physical, chemical or biological agents;
  • welfare facilities.
  • A new or expectant mother may work nights, provided this presents no risk to her health and safety. However, if a specific work risk has been identified – or her GP / midwife has provided a medical certificate stating she must not work nights – her employer must offer suitable alternative day work, on the same terms and conditions. If that is not possible, the employer must suspend her from work on paid leave for as long as is necessary to protect her health and safety and / or that of her child.

Young Persons

  • A young person is anyone under 18 years of age and minimum school leaving age (16),
  • Many of the risks to young persons should be covered by existing risk assessments and control measures should already be in place prior to them starting work. When assessing the risks to young persons, consider:
  • physical maturity (e.g. strength, size);
  • psychological capacity; risk perception/taking, distraction, horse-play, peer pressure, stress;
  • lack of experience;
  • additional health and safety training;
  • increased supervision;
  • harmful exposure which affects health;
  • work involving cold, heat, noise or vibration;
  • suitability of safety equipment (PPE etc.).
  • A young person may feel that they need to prove themselves and be eager to please their superiors. This may lead to a lack of confidence to ask for explanation or clarity of instructions when not fully understood increasing the likelihood of “cutting corners”,
  • Consider suitable induction, instruction, supervision, site familiarisation, and the use of any protective equipment that might be needed.

Workers Over Post-Retirement Age

  • Consider the Individual factors associated with workers over post-retirement age:
    • Physical capacity of older workers;
    • Hearing loss and occupational risk factors;
    • Visual and other perceptual problems;
    • Cognitive functioning;
    • Environmental;
    • Use of medication;
    • Fatigue;
    • Job stress/demands;
    • Overtime;
    • Driving;
    • Shift work.

New Starters

  • For all new starters, a formal Health and Safety Induction should be carried out within the first few days of employment. Points to consider with new starters are:
    • They will not be familiar with the emergency arrangements in place;
    • Being supervised by a person who has a poor Health and Safety ethos may influence the new employee to cut corners etc;
    • Poor manual handling techniques or seating posture when working at a computer could encourage prolonged musculoskeletal issues;
    • Wanting to impress their new employer and not reporting near misses or defects with machinery or equipment.
  • A new starter may not be new to the company but they may have transferred to a different department or given new responsibilities,
  • There a number of different ways to ensure that the above does not occur in your business:
    • Ensure that a formal induction process is carried out within the first few days of their employment,
    • Being informed of your health, safety and security rules and reporting procedures,
    • Where specific skills and knowledge is needed for their job role, you should ensure that suitable and sufficient training is provided,
    • Where a new starter is exposed to a risk, they should be made aware of the controls you have in place to ensure that they follow the safe systems of work and wear the correct PPE where required,
    • Safety when using power tools/machines including: how to adjust guards, not removing guards, which PPE to be worn, importance of using correct tool for purpose, use of battery or reduced voltage tools.

Disabled Workers

  • Where you employ persons with disabilities, or where existing employees become disabled, you should ensure that the workplace is adapted for their needs including arrangements to ensure their health, safety and welfare,
  • The definition of disability in the Equality Act 2010 is very broad and can cover a very wide range impairments. Remember that a disability doesn’t have to be physical, some are not so obvious.
  • There are further considerations that need to be implemented when you employ a disabled worker:
    • It is a requirement that, where necessary, parts of the workplace are taken into account the possibility of a disable person. For example doors, passageways/stairs, lavatories, workstations, washbasins,
    • A Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan (PEEP) should be established,
    • Ensure that the needs of disabled staff are taken into account when carrying out risk assessments and if necessary, undertake an individual risk assessment for the work of the particular employee, bearing in mind their abilities and disabilities,
    • Ensure that the risk assessments and PEEP are reviewed at regular frequencies taking into consideration the changes in the employee’s disability.
  • Most ‘reasonable adjustments’ cost nothing or very little with the emphasis on the word ‘reasonable’ and what is reasonable can depend on the size of the business.
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Elena Boura