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Lone Working

This guide shows you how to keep lone workers healthy and safe. It is aimed at anyone who employs or contracts lone workers, and also at self-employed people who work alone.

Legal to work alone and is it safe?

Working alone is not against the law and it will often be safe to do so. However, the law requires employers to consider, and then deal with, any health and safety risks for employees working alone.

Employers are responsible for the health, safety and welfare at work of all their workers. They also have responsibility for the health and safety of any contractors or self-employed people doing work for them.

Health & Safety responsibilities cannot be transferred to any other person, including those people who work alone.

Workers have responsibilities to take reasonable care of themselves and other people affected by their work activities and to co-operate with their employers in meeting their legal obligations.

What is a lone worker?

Lone workers are those who work by themselves without close or direct supervision, for example:

  • An employee working alone in a small workshop, petrol station, kiosk or shop
  • Staff who work from home other than in low-risk, office-type work
  • Staff working alone for long periods, e.g. in factories, warehouses, leisure centre, staff working on their own outside normal hours, e.g. cleaners and security, maintenance engineer
    • Workers involved in construction, maintenance and repair, plant installation and cleaning work
    • Agricultural and forestry workers
    • Service workers, including postal staff, social and medical workers, engineers, estate agents, and sales or service representatives visiting domestic and commercial premises

How employers control the risks?

Employers have a duty to assess risks to lone workers and take steps to avoid or control risks where necessary. This must include:

  • involving employees when considering potential risks and measures to control them
  • taking steps to ensure risks are removed where possible, or putting in place control measures, e.g. carefully selecting work equipment to ensure the worker is able to perform the required tasks in safety
  • instruction, training and supervision
  • reviewing risk assessments periodically or when there has been a significant change in working practice.

This can include:

  • being aware that some tasks may be too difficult or dangerous to be carried out by an unaccompanied worker.
  • where a lone worker is working at another employer’s workplace, informing that other employer of the risks and the required control measures.
  • when a risk assessment shows it is not possible for the work to be conducted safely by a lone worker, addressing that risk by making arrangements to provide help or back-up.

Risk assessment should help employers decide on the right level of supervision. There are some high-risk activities where at least one other person may need to be present. Examples include:

  • working in a confined space, where a supervisor may need to be present, along with someone dedicated to the rescue role.
  • working at or near exposed live electricity conductors.
  • working in the health and social care sector dealing with unpredictable client behavior and situations.

Employers who have five or more employees must record the significant findings of all risk assessments.

Employers also need to be aware of any specific law that prohibits lone working applying in their industry. Examples include supervision in diving operations, vehicles carrying explosives and fumigation work.

What must employers advise on?

By law, employers must consult all their employees on health and safety matters.

Good H&S communication will also help ensure that relevant hazards are identified, and appropriate and control measures are put in place.

What issues affect lone workers?

Lone workers should not be put at risk more than any other employee, having a healthy and safe working environment for lone workers can be different from organizing the health and safety of other employees.

Some of the problems that need attention when looking at safe working arrangements the following information will guide you, your risk assessment process should identify the problems relevant to your environment.

Can one individual control the risks of the job?

Employers must take into account normal work and foreseeable emergencies, e.g. fire, equipment failure, sickness and accidents. Employers must identify situations where staff work alone and look at the following:

  • Does the workplace have a specific risk to the lone worker, for example due to access equipment, such as ladders or trestles that one person would have difficulty moving or using safely?
  • Is there a safe way in and out for one person, e.g. for a lone person working out of hours where the workplace could be locked up?
  • Is there machinery involved in the work place that one person cannot operate safely?
  • Are chemicals or hazardous substances being used that may pose a particular risk to the lone worker?
  • Does the work involve lifting objects too large for one person?
  • Is there a risk of violence and/or aggression?
  • Are there any reasons why the individual might be more vulnerable than others and be particularly at risk if they work alone (for example if they are young, pregnant, disabled or a trainee)?
  • If the lone worker’s first language is not English, are suitable arrangements in place to ensure clear communications, especially in an emergency?

When staff have a medical condition, are they able to work alone?

Employers should seek medical advice if necessary. Consider both routine work and foreseeable emergencies that may impose additional physical and mental burdens on an individual.

Why is training important for lone workers?

Training is particularly important where there is limited supervision to control, guide and help in uncertain situations.

Training may also be crucial in enabling people to cope in unexpected circumstances and with potential exposure to violence and aggression.

Lone workers are unable to ask more experienced colleagues for help, so extra training may be appropriate. They need to be experienced and fully understand the risks and control measures involved in their work and the environment that they work in.

Employers must set the limits to what can and cannot be done while working alone. They should ensure workers are competent to deal with the requirements of the job and are able to understand when to seek help from elsewhere.

How will staff be supervised?

The level of supervision required depends on the risks involved and the ability of the lone worker to understand and deal with health and safety issues.

The level of supervision needed is a management decision, which should be based on the findings of a risk assessment, i.e. the higher the risk, the greater the level of supervision required. It should not be left to individuals to decide whether they need assistance.

Where a worker is new to a job, undergoing training, doing a job that presents specific risks, or dealing with new situations, it would be best for them to be supervised or shadowed when they first take up the post.

Monitoring

Procedures must be put in place to monitor lone workers as effective means of communication are essential. These may include:

  • supervisors regularly visiting and observing people working alone.
  • agreed regular contact between the lone worker and supervisor, using phones, radios or email, bearing in mind the worker’s understanding of English.
  • manually operated or automatic warning devices which trigger if specific signals are not received periodically from the lone worker, e.g. staff security systems.
  • implementing a system to ensure a lone worker has returned to their base or home once their work is completed.

What happens if a member of staff becomes ill, has an accident, there is an emergency?

Your assessment of the risks should identify foreseeable events. Emergency procedures should be implemented, and employees trained in them on a regular basis

Information regarding emergency procedures should be given to lone workers. Your risk assessment may indicate that mobile workers should carry first-aid kits and/or that lone workers need first-aid training. They should also have access to adequate first-aid facilities.

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Extracts taken from www.hse.gov.uk 25/04/2018

If you need assistance with wording when creating your own policies and procedures, Wendy Jennings Creative can help.

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