Taking care of vulnerable workers

This guide outlines how to manage the health and safety of vulnerable workers in the workplace. It explains the type of workers who are considered vulnerable and what you will need to consider to protect them from harm.

January 16, 2024
Image of a vulnerable worker - a female lone worker undertaking a water inspection at a riverside.

The definition of a vulnerable worker

IOSH defines vulnerable workers as those who are at a higher risk of incurring an injury or illness at work due to certain circumstances or conditions at work.

Vulnerable workers include new or expectant mothers, those with a disability, young people, migrant workers, temporary workers, people new to the job, older workers, lone workers and home workers. Some workers will be vulnerable for a certain period of time such as workers new to the business or new and expectant mothers. Other workers may remain as vulnerable.

Types of workers vulnerable for a defined period of time

  • People new to the job

    Risk duration: For a defined period of time
    Risk type: Workers are as likely to have an accident in their first 6 months at work as during the whole of the rest of their working life.
    Risk examples: Workers new to a workplace may not recognise hazards as a potential source of danger, may not understand ‘obvious’ rules for equipment use, may not be familiar with site layout – this is particularly important if site hazards change from day to day, may ignore warning signs and rules, or cut corners in an eagerness to impress.

  • New and expectant mothers

    Workers who are pregnant, have given birth in the last 6 months or are currently breastfeeding.

    Risk duration: For a defined period of time
    Risk type: The potential for exposure to harm for the mother and / or their child; activities / processes at work that might impact upon the development of the baby; the stage of pregnancy; or their need for facilities to express milk.
    Risk examples: Posture and position; long hours; shift work and night work; mental and physical fatigue; risk of physical injury; exposure to harmful substances.

  • Young people

    People under the age of 18

    Risk duration: For a defined period of time
    Risk type: Young people are likely to be new to the workplace as a new worker, on work experience or an apprentice. They are at more risk of injury in the first six months of a job, as they may be less aware of risks.
    Risk examples: Often vulnerable as they may lack experience or maturity; may not have reached physical maturity and lack strength; be eager to impress or please people they work with; be unaware how to raise concerns.

  • Migrant workers

    Risk duration: For a defined period of time
    Risk type: Workers from outside Britain can encounter unfamiliar risks, sometimes due to a different working environment or working culture to what they experienced in their home country.
    Risk examples: Lack of employment experience; unfamiliar with the role and what is expected; language barriers; lack of training.

  • Agency and temporary workers

    Risk duration: For a defined period of time
    Risk type: Covers short-term, informal working relationships where work is on-demand, obtained through an online platform or delivered on a task-by-task basis.
    Risk examples: It is important to understand the types of work often carried out by agency and temporary workers because this can lead to issues beyond what might be considered normal workplace hazards.

Identifying vulnerable workers should be undertaken carefully and sensitively. Work with your organisation’s Human Resource team if you have one and respect legislation around personal data protection, equality, diversity and inclusion.

Types of workers permanently vulnerable

  • Older workers

    Risk duration: Permanent
    Risk type: Review your risk assessment if anything significant changes, not just when a worker reaches a certain age. Think about how your business operates and how older workers could play a part in helping to improve how you manage health and safety risks.
    Risk examples: Changes may occur in muscular strength, cardiovascular systems, reaction times, eyesight or hearing abilities.

  • People with a disability

    Disabled people and those with health conditions, including mental health conditions.

    Risk duration: Permanent
    Risk type: Physical or mental impairments linked to their disability. Disability is not always obvious so you might not realise a worker is disabled or they might choose not to tell you, particularly if their disability has no impact on their ability to do their job. Workers do not have to tell you unless they have a disability that 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 any disability, you are not under any obligation to make workplace adjustments.
    Risk examples: These are wide ranging depending on the disability.

  • Night or shift workers

    Risk duration: Permanent
    Risk type: The effect on their body clock, sleeping or eating patterns.
    Risk examples: Mental and physical fatigue; long hours; risk of physical injury; lone working.

  • Lone workers

    Risk duration: Permanent
    Risk type: Work by themselves without close or direct supervision.
    Risk examples: Violence in the workplace; stress and mental health or wellbeing; a person’s medical suitability to work alone; the workplace itself, for example if it’s in a rural or isolated area; night or shift work.

  • Home / hybrid workers

    Risk duration: Permanent
    Risk type: Lack of contact with colleagues; poor working conditions.
    Risk examples: Consider stress and poor mental health; an appropriate and safe place to work at home; using equipment like computers and laptops safely.

How to safeguard vulnerable workers

As always the starting point is to perform risk assessments for the tasks undertaken.

Step 1: Identify the hazards.
Step 2: Identify who can be harmed and how.
Step 3: Assess the risks.
Step 4: Decide on the controls needed.
What additional controls are needed, where it is reasonable to do so, to ensure that vulnerable workers have the same level of risk control as non-vulnerable workers.
Reassess the risks based on the adoption of these controls.
Step 5: Review risk assessments regularly or if something changes.

HSE guidance on vulnerable workers

How Trackplot can help

Trackplot is a lone worker monitoring system and can help you keep your lone workers safe.

We provide comprehensive guidance to help you develop or review your existing Lone Working Policies and Procedures; thorough training to ensure that lone workers and their managers understand how the Trackplot system works and what is expected of them; responsive customer support including an annual review or if your business needs change.

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Trackplot's team are here to help – to discuss your lone working requirements or to give advice and customer support.

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