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Lone Working | Managing the Safety Risks for Lone Workers

October 20, 2021 | By: Paul O'Connor

lone working

The aim of the article is to provide guidance on the definition of who is a lone worker, addressing the risks that lone workers can face, how to assess and control the risks to lone workers and provide guidance on lone working solutions.

The Covid-19 pandemic has changed the way people work. One of the most significant changes is more people are now working from home either full time or through hybrid working. Equally, employees are now travelling to sites independently to help reduce the transmission of Covid-19 whereas prior to Covid-19 they may have attended site in one vehicle. In addition, where employees use to work in pairs, they may now be working on their own because of Covid-19. As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic we have seen more people fall into the group of lone workers.

Lone Working Definitions

What do we mean by a lone worker? The HSE define a lone worker as ‘someone who works by themselves without close or direct supervision’.
A lone worker can be found in all sectors and can include any of the following:

  • Working alone at a fixed base, for example, retail unit, office, café, workshop, leisure centres etc. even though they may not be on their own because of customers in the building they are still classed as a lone worker.
  • Working separately in the same building, for example, in a separate office to the warehouse, in a separate office from others, different area of the building to others.
  • Working at home, even though they may have their family at home with them they are still classed as a lone worker, and they should be treated the same if they were in the workplace and to others who are also working at home.
  • Volunteers carrying out work on their own, i.e., litter pickers, working in retail units, fundraising, coordinating meetings etc.

Working away from a fixed base (travelling, visiting) examples can include:

  • Persons providing care in the community
  • Gas engineers
  • Electricians
  • Builders
  • Plumbers
  • Landscape gardeners
  • Forestry workers
  • Delivery drivers
  • Service workers including taxi drivers, estate agents, postal staff, sales staff.
    High-Risk WorkThere are many people who can fall into the definition of a lone worker and the above are some examples of where a lone worker can apply. Nevertheless, some people are not advised to work alone if the work is considered high-risk and at least another person must be present for the task. This includes:
    • Working in a confined space, as someone else will be required who is trained and competent in the rescue role.
    • Near exposed live electricity conductors.
    • In diving operations.
    • In vehicles carrying explosives.
    • With fumigation.

Lone working like any other hazard can lead to the risk of accidents and ill-health occurring.

Risks to Lone Workers

So, what are the risks that lone workers can face? Lone workers are at risk from violence in the workplace due to their vulnerability, which can include verbal abuse, threats, threatening behaviour, violent aggression, and physical assault. A survey was carried out by the Suzy Lamplugh Trust and found that 81% of lone workers were concerned with violence and aggression.

A lone worker is also at risk from stress, mental health, and wellbeing issues through the effects of isolation for instance. A lone worker is much more vulnerable if they were to fall unwell and suffer a medical crisis as they wouldn’t be able to summon the help as quickly as say someone who was not working alone, and this can also apply to if the lone worker was to sustain an injury from an accident. Furthermore, a lone worker may be more susceptible to sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviour.

Lastly, when considering the risks that particularly could affect a lone worker consider the area, where is the workplace sited, is it rural, is it isolated, is it in a built-up area etc.

Lone Working Risk Assessments

As an employer you have a legal duty to assess the risks to lone workers in your general task risk assessments, there is no requirement for you to produce a specific, separate risk assessment for lone working. However, if you wish to produce a specific separate risk assessment for lone working that is perfectly acceptable. In your risk assessment you are required to take the necessary steps to avoid or control the risks to lone workers.

Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations, you have a legal duty to manage the risk to lone workers including a responsibility to those in the gig economy as they tend to be individuals who are either self-employed, freelancers or independent contractors.

As an employer, you have a duty to know where your employees are always and take steps to manage any risk of harm occurring to them.

    • To start with, when assessing the risks to lone workers you need to consider who or what that individual could encounter and who they are meeting. To illustrate this, if they are working alone in a retail unit, café etc. somewhere that handles money they could encounter a threat of robbery.
    • Furthermore, if they visit vulnerable persons in the community are they likely to encounter violent behaviour or sexual harassment? How well do you know the people that your employee is meeting?
    • Next, assess the environment, are they working in an isolated building, are they working in a rural area, is the building opened to members of the public, what are the risks of that environment to that lone worker? Consider any local incidents.
    • In addition, consider when they will be working, are they working when many people will be around, are they working early morning, late evening, or at night where they will be more isolated?
    • Another factor to consider is the type of equipment that they will be using, assess if the equipment and the tasks required are suitable for the lone worker.
    • As part of the risk assessment, you need to consider if the lone worker is more vulnerable, for example, are they a young person, expectant mother, disabled or a trainee?

Implement Effective Control Measures

Once you have identified the possible factors that could put a lone worker at risk, you then have a duty to put into place control measures to reduce the likelihood of harm occurring to so far as is reasonably practicable.

Firstly, identify who is going to be a lone worker. If the lone worker has an underlying health condition you should always seek medical advice. It may not be advisable to have an individual with a heart condition for example working on their own if they are at risk of a heart attack. If that individual was to have a medical episode, the delay in assistance could be fatal.

Likewise, a lone worker should have sufficient experience and knowledge of the risks and precautions involved in their work, so it is important that they are adequately trained.

A frequently asked question that we receive at Wirehouse Employer Services is can a young person work alone? To keep it simple, it all comes down to risk assessment. As mentioned previously, a lone worker must have the necessary information, instruction and understanding of the risks and precautions to take when at work and to perform the task. For most young persons, this could be their first job and for this reason, they will lack risk awareness and the lack of maturity, and it is for these reasons that young persons need that additional support, close monitoring, and supervision and from these practices it will highlight areas that need further training or supervision.

Lone Working & Effective Communication

Many people who work alone, can feel very isolated which can negatively impact on an employee’s mental health and wellbeing. To reduce the likelihood of feelings of isolation, communication is essential with employees. It is always good practice to have a mixture of professional conversations and personal conversations. A quick telephone call to see how someone is and even discuss non-work-related topics, is a great way to boost morale for that individual.

One of the challenges of being a lone worker is you have nobody at hand to quickly ask them “what do you think to this”, and the difficulty in seeing what you have completed/achieved. To overcome this challenge, think about your communications within the business, how do employees communicate with one another, if they need support who can they go to? Always communicate clear guidance and advice with employees. It is good practice to implement a lone working policy.

You must monitor your lone workers and keep in contact with them. You should establish a time of when you are going to communicate with them, the level of contact will depend on the nature of the risk and the response time if they were not to respond again would depend on the nature of the risk. If you know that the lone worker could be at high risk, then a shorter response time will be required for alerting the emergency services.

Lone Worker Software & Devices

When you have lone workers out on their own in the community, they can become increasingly more vulnerable to risks. There are many solutions out there and software packages that can be purchased to help make lone workers feel safer and summon emergency aid quickly. If there was a problem, how would the lone worker summon help, who would respond and what will they do?

When selecting a solution, consider selecting a few choices and shortlisting them. It is always good to get the employees involved as you want them to use it. By them not using it, you are not meeting your duty of care to them so get them onboard. If you are choosing to implement a lone working device, contact several companies and ask for trials to be carried out to determine which lone working device is best for you. When you are experimenting with the software make sure you know what you want to achieve and as a minimum trial it out for two weeks.

One of the key worries employees may have is the data that they are gathering. Consult with your IT team and get them to check out the proposed software packages too. Employees may have concerns that the devices used will track all their movements and are watching them all the time. If an employee needs to nip to an appointment which only one person knows about then they may feel it is appropriate to disengage the tracker.

In the UK, when purchasing any lone worker device, you should ensure it is compliant with BS 8484:2016. Any system you have implemented must be routinely tested to ensure it is still working effectively and any actions identified from these tests should be rectified immediately.

To conclude, if you employ lone workers within your organisation, you have a duty of care to protect their, health, safety and wellbeing. A risk assessment must be carried out and control measures implemented to reduce the likelihood of harm occurring so far as is reasonably practicable.

Please get in touch with our health and safety team today for help managing lone working risks and other safety issues in your business.

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About the Author
Paul O'Connor
Paul O'Connor
Paul O'Connor, Author at Wirehouse Employer Services