What is a Vulnerable Worker?
The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) defines vulnerable workers as those who are at risk of having their workplace entitlements denied and who lack the capacity or means to secure them.
Put simply, this is any person or group of people who do not have certain capabilities or experience, leading to an increased risk or different risk from the average person. This should include a person’s health status as well as their physical, mental and emotional vulnerabilities.
The HSE consider the following to be vulnerable workers:
- New and expectant mothers
- People with disabilities
- Young persons
- Migrant Workers
- Gig economy, agency and temporary workers
- Those new to the Job
- Lone workers
- Older workers
- Homeworkers remote workers and agile workers
In addition to this list, the Chartered Institute for Personnel Development (CIPD) also include working carers as being vulnerable.
Why are new and expectant mothers vulnerable?
For expectant mothers, the risk is doubled as there are two lives who could be affected by the work environment or work activities.
The size, shape and other physical aspects of a pregnant worker change significantly during the course of their pregnancy and this needs to be considered to ensure safe movement, circulation, access to suitable seating, and welfare facilities. Particular attention is needed to ensure that a new mother returning back to work after giving birth has her needs assessed, taking into account any changes to their health and medical status after the birth.
Reasonable measures should be identified to ensure provision of breastfeeding facilities if they have chosen to continue breastfeeding after returning to work.
Why are workers with disabilities vulnerable?
Disabled workers are often limited by employers as being wheelchair users, but this only represents a small proportion of disabled workers. Not all disabilities are visible and workers often adapt their work around their physical, sensory, or mental limitations.
Workers do not have to tell you of their disability unless it could foreseeably affect the safety of themselves or anyone else connected to their work. If they do not tell you and there are no obvious indicators of disability, you cannot be expected to make workplace adjustments. This emphasises the need for employers to consult with employees and ensure there are processes where problems can be reported in a confidential and ethical way.
Once a disability is brought to your attention, a vulnerable worker risk assessment should be undertaken and the employee consulted on this.
Why are young workers vulnerable?
Anyone under the age of 18 years is deemed to be a young worker. They are vulnerable due to their lack of experience of workplace hazards / risks and of the dangers around them. Many young people also have a higher risk-taking appetite. Some may have a tendency to act as if they are ”immortal” simply because they haven’t experienced negative effects of risky behaviours and rule breaking. This is why the law requires you complete a young worker risk assessment.
Why are migrant workers vulnerable to h&s risks?
A migrant worker is considered to be someone who is or has been working in the UK in the last 12 months and has come to work in the UK in the last five years. They may be more vulnerable because their work experience has exposed them to a different culture where health & safety risks may not be given the same level of priority as they are in the UK. Risk assessments should consider cultural and behavioural aspects of risk-taking. For further information on this, you can view our blog on behavioural safety.
Are agency, temporary & gig-economy workers more vulnerable?
Anyone who is not familiar with your workplace environment, processes, and risks will be more vulnerable due to their lack of knowledge.
For health and safety purposes, gig-economy workers should be treated no differently to other workers and will often identify as an agency worker, temporary worker, or self-employed. They may also be ‘limb (b) workers’ and entitled to certain employment rights.
Gig economy, agency, and temporary workers require the same standards of work equipment and welfare facilities as any other workers, no matter what their job is or the number of hours they work.
Why are those new to the job vulnerable?
Research indicates that workers are most likely to have an accident in the first six months at a workplace. The extra risk arises due to:
- lack of experience of working in a new industry or workplace
- lack of familiarity with the job and the work environment
- reluctance to raise concerns (or not knowing how to)
- eagerness to impress workmates and managers.
This means workers new to a site may not recognise the dangers around them, may not understand ‘obvious’ rules for use of equipment or may think its OK to cut corners or rules. This is why it is important to have an induction process that enables anyone new to your organisation/site to know the basic and most important health and safety requirements.
Are older workers vulnerable to h&s risks?
Today’s workforce is likely to contain a higher proportion of older workers because of factors such as increased life expectancy, removal of the default retirement age, and raising of the State pension age. Many people will need (or want) to continue working.
Older workers bring a broad range of skills and experience to the workplace and often have good judgment and knowledge, so looking after their health and safety makes good business sense. However, they may be less responsive to technology changes and working culture. Where tasks involve high physical input or fast reflexes, they may have physical limitations that will need to be considered.
Are lone workers more at risk?
Lone workers are those who work by themselves without close or direct supervision. The key question to ask when assessing risks to lone workers is: “How long would it be before a lone worker needing help was identified”? If you were injured, ill or otherwise exposed to danger, wouldn’t you want to know that someone would flag this up and respond quickly?
Only jobs that do not present an abnormally high risk when working alone should be considered for lone working. Where lone working cannot be eliminated, robust safety controls are needed, based upon a lone worker risk assessment.
Why are homeworkers considered vulnerable?
As an employer, you have the same health & safety responsibilities for people working at home or working remotely as for any other worker. Home workers are now often referred to as ‘hybrid’ or ‘flexible’ workers. This may include those deemed to be ‘agile’ workers too.
A main driver of flexible/agile working in recent years has been the need for business continuity during the COVID pandemic. However, improvements to IT technology have made remote, hybrid and homeworking much more efficient and cost effective and have improved the work/life balance for many.
Due to the complexity of this topic, we have separate guidance on working from home.
Training for homeworkers in health & safety relevant to their work environment is important, as is the need to ensure effective and frequent communication to avoid the risk of staff feeling isolated. There is potential risk of performance management problems too when someone is working remotely, so consistent monitoring may be required.
Are professional carers more vulnerable?
Professional carers often work in environments that are dynamic, and where risks can change within a matter of seconds. They often work alone or isolated and, depending on who they provide care and support to, there may be exposure to violence and aggression. Therefore, when completing risk assessments, there needs to be inclusion of risk to their emotional and psychological wellbeing as well as the physical risks.
Health and safety in health and social care sector and clinical care are specialist topics for PHSC.
COVID-19 and vulnerable workers
Since the Government launched its Living with Covid strategy, there is no longer a requirement to self-isolate for anyone – even if they have COVID. However, employers are still obliged to assess and manage risks to workers, including vulnerable workers.
You must continue to review assessments for your workers if they were deemed clinically vulnerable, some of whom may also come within the remit of the Equality Act 2010. To do this, you need to complete a vulnerable worker risk assessment which takes into account their needs, their work, and their environment. During this risk assessment, you should continue to consider exposure to COVID (as well as other known viruses such as influenza).
Vulnerable Worker Legal Requirements
The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require that risk assessments are completed and your main findings recorded. When completing an assessment, you must consider the people who are at risk, and those who may be more vulnerable to a particular risk due to their personal circumstances (e.g. pregnancy, disability, or pre-existing health condition).
Therefore, you should identify anyone at your workplace who may be vulnerable and ensure a specific assessment is completed. This may link with requirements in the Equality Act 2010, especially if someone has a long-term condition likely to last more than 12 months. The vulnerable worker risk assessment will help you decide what reasonable adjustments are warranted.
Vulnerable Worker Risk Assessment
A vulnerable worker risk assessment considers specifically why an individual is more susceptible to risk of harm, and the consequences if they are exposed to that harm. This type of assessment gives a person-centred approach to assessing and managing health and safety risks in the workplace.
Is a Generic Risk Assessment Acceptable for Vulnerable Workers?
In short, no. At least not unless your generic assessment has been modified to take account of the individual’s own circumstances.
The benefit of using a generic risk assessment is that it will significantly reduce your workload. It also gives you a systematic framework for completing your assessment and what to consider.
You can use a generic risk assessment if:
- It enables you to write the individual’s name, job title and work activities
- It records the reason why the person is more vulnerable
- It lists the standard preventive and protective measures you are taking at work to eliminate/minimise the risks
- It allows you to consider a range of additional protective measures over and above those which are standard and may be suitable to protect your vulnerable worker
- It enables you to agree a person-centred approach with your vulnerable employee.
- It helps you to prioritise what you should do, based upon your estimation of the risk (e.g. through using a risk matrix).
Does this apply to general risk assessment?
Yes, it does apply. The requirement for vulnerable worker risk assessments has been in place since the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations were first introduced in 1992 (and updated in 1999). An easy way to do this is to add a category for those who may be more vulnerable in all your risk assessments. There are five stages to a risk assessment, regardless of the type of assessment you are completing so this will also apply to a vulnerable worker assessment. If you want to know more about these five steps of risk assessment please click here.
Further Help and Advice
Please use our free risk assessment template to help guide you. If you would like to know how to use this free Vulnerable Worker Risk Assessment template download, please call us on 01622 717700 or mail email@example.com. It costs nothing to talk and a simple phone call may be all that is needed to help you.