The Environment Agency is a large organisation, employing more than 10 000 people. The Agency’s aim is to improve the environment, and its work includes responsibility for matters relating to flooding, pollution, and conservation. The Agency also has enforcement responsibilities.
This case study focuses on one team within the Agency, the Thames Region North East Area Regulatory Waste Team.
There are several Environmental Management Teams in the North East Area. The Regulatory Waste Team consists of eight people. Staff in this team may leave home in the morning and go directly to a number of waste management or waste disposal sites. The inspector inspects the site to ensure it is compliant with its permit.
All inspectors receive training: this is one of the most successful measures. All inspectors have warrants and to obtain these they must successfully complete their training. This includes lone working training and one-day refresher training.
Up-to-date health and safety information for sites: when inspectors visit a site they must update the site’s health and safety sheet. They may visit a site several times and will read the site sheet before they visit so that they are aware of, and prepared for, any risks.
Incident reporting: if a lone worker fails to call in, and cannot be located, a full-scale accident or near-miss investigation is automatically carried out. This type of incident is reported.
Calling in on completion: inspectors are encouraged to call their managers if they have completed a job and are going straight home. This helps to ensure team welfare but is not mandatory.
Managers’ responsibility: line managers have considerable responsibilities for lone working policies. They must do audits and tests to ensure that procedures are working.
Records: to identify someone who is missing, records are held for each lone worker. These include names and details of the cars they drive.
Mobile phone lone worker system: each member of staff has a PIN number which connects to the Regional Command Centre. Staff give details of how long they expect to be on a visit and must report in when it ends. If they do not report in, the Centre is alerted and will attempt to contact the lone worker. If, after a period of time, there is no answer, the line manager is called and further procedures are initiated. This system is being rolled out to the whole of the region.
Conventional mobile phones: all lone workers receive these, checked and fully charged before use. Workers can also use them if there is an accident and they need to summon help.
Dog whistles: these can be made available to help control violent dogs.
Risk assessments ‘on the job’: as soon as inspectors arrive at a site, they are encouraged to conduct an informal risk assessment to identify any potential violence risks. They have the site inspection file with them to record any health and safety issues.
Doubling up: if necessary two people visit a site. If the risk of violence is particularly high, the police will escort inspectors.
Diary: staff record all their visit details in a diary.
White board with alarms: staff on lone working duties must record their visit details on a ‘white board’. Accompanying the white board there are alarm clocks which the lone worker sets when they leave. The alarm clock goes off when they are due to return, alerting the office.
Some measures have disadvantages, or are less effective than others:
Feedback from staff to line management and union representatives indicates that:
Staff feel valued and cared for by the organisation: for example, staff know that the operations director will support them if they feel at risk and decide to leave a site.
Reassurance: staff are comforted and reassured to know that, if they fail to ring in, somebody will come to look for them.
Extra effort from staff: because staff feel the organisation cares about them they are more likely to ‘go the extra mile’.
Confidence in the measures: inspectors do actually use the systems.
Piloting success: the mobile phone lone worker system has been piloted on one group of staff and has been judged to be an effective investment. The system will be rolled out throughout the region.
Priorities: money is not a barrier to health and safety. ‘You cannot put a price on human life’.