Do It (by) yourself: surviving in a workforce of one
17th October 2016
When most people outside the industry think of construction, they're picturing full crews of workers. They're imagining oceans of bobbing hardhats, swinging hammers and swarming over scaffolding. When it's working well, a full-scale construction crew is a workforce to be reckoned with. Every person on site has a part to play, and looking out for each other is second nature.
For a lot of people, though, that's not the day-to-day life they know. In fact, across all UK industries, more and more of us are working alone, or close to it. As recently reported by our friends at UCATT, Britain's currently got close to 7 million solitary workers. That's 22% of the overall workforce operating without support or on-site help. For a writer or courier, that might just be part of the game. In construction, though, it could easily be more like life or death.
According to the Health and Safety Executive, a lone worker is anyone operating without "close or direct supervision". We're talking about people who spend most of their working hours without fellow workers around them. Under the right circumstances, this needn't be a bad thing. In fact, a lot of people seem perfectly happy on their own. They're out there doing the job, with no distractions or supervisors breathing down their necks. If you like your freedom, it might just be exactly what you need.
The thing is, there's a down-side to working alone, and it can be pretty steep if you're not ready for it. Whether you're working in public or entering someone's home, you might be glad of a bit of back-up from time to time. A second pair of eyes when you're dealing with high-voltage installations can be a life-saver. If the worst comes to the worst, you can't call the emergency services yourself when you're unconscious and bleeding.
Legally speaking, there's nothing preventing you from working alone. The problems set in when you're pressured into it without adequate precautions. There's a can be a world of difference between your assessment of a risk and your employer's. Health and Safety legislation means you're at least supposed to get access to first aid facilities. Again, though, they'll probably be cold comfort when you've been knocked out. An employer might think of a job like decorating as relatively low-risk. Even there, though, you can be dealing with dangerous chemicals, tools and situations. At the end of the day, no one's ever completely safe up a ladder.
Like anything else in life, you weigh up the risks when you take the job on. Plenty of people seem happy enough to walk the lonely road, and the real horror stories are still pretty rare. The point is to make that risk assessment yourself, rather than be bullied or pressured into ignoring your own best judgement. If you feel your safety's not being taken seriously, make some noise about it. Above all, don't let employers shirk their legal responsibilities to keep you safe and healthy. Don't let accidents go unreported just so a firm can keep a clean record, either. Even if the worst was avoided, getting some safeguards locked in now could prevent a much uglier situation later.
Most importantly, know your rights. When a company saves a few pennies skimping on precautions, then those pennies are the value they've placed on your life. If you're not sure they've calculated the risks properly, don't get pressured into taking them alone.
If you're self employed or CIS then get in touch and see how we can help you.