Buzz, Buzz, Buzz. We all awake to the shrill sound of our alarms and, possibly after hitting the snooze button a few times, drag ourselves out of bed and in to work. The journey to and from work is something most of us do 10 times per week. It becomes a familiar routine.
For some people it is a pleasurable walk through the countryside, for others a nightmarish trek through the urban jungle or an hour long nose to tail conga down the motorway. Regardless of the mode of transport there are risks involved and whilst it is a familiar routine not everyone makes it to and from work unscathed. Over the next few weeks we will explore the dangers employees face on these commutes and we invite you to tell us about your own horror stories.
There are volumes of Health and Safety laws which employers require to comply with to ensure workers are kept safe whilst at work, but does their obligations cease the second the employee walks out the door? One major issue identified by Usdaw is the safety of workers travelling home late at night. The workplace is becoming a more pressurised place than ever and longer hours are demanded of employees across every industry. That coupled by ever increasing commuting times means that employees are leaving work a few hours late and then travelling an average of 1-2 hours home. Usdaw’s members expressed particular concern about walking through dark car parks late at night. Other dangers are waiting alone at secluded bus stops or walking home via dark isolated retail parks. Women felt particularly vulnerable.
Nobody should feel scared getting to or from work. Employers ought to tackle this issue. There are various arguments which can be made that their legal duties extend to getting employees home safely. There are certainly moral responsibilities. If an employee stays late, it is often treated by the employer as a choice and therefore up to them to get home safely. However, no person would rather be at work that spending time with their families. They stay late to assist the business and meet impossible deadlines. The employers therefore have a duty to ensure they get home safe. In most cases small changes could resolve the issue, for example better lighting in car parks, staff car parks closer to the premises and security chaperones to their car. Some employers pay for taxis if an employee requires to stay in the office past a certain time. In other employments unsociable hours form part of an employee’s contract. However, whilst they are required to get to and from work early morning or late at night, they are also entitled to do so safely.
There are a number of solutions. The employees staying late to meet deadlines could be given the technology to leave at their usual time and finish the work from home. Employers could set up car share schemes, trim overgrown bushes, increase lighting, agree staff can move cars closer to the building after certain times, and implementing a buddy system.
Employers could also be more flexible with start and finish times to fit with travel arrangements. There are lots of employees who, if they finished 5 minutes earlier could make that earlier bus or train rather than waiting alone and in the dark for another 55 minutes for the next one.
In the survey carried out by Usdaw over a third of their members felt unsafe travelling to and from work. Should employers do more?
Bloy by Alan Calderwood, accident lawyer Edinburgh