Working alone is becoming increasingly common as more firms introduce home working and more people decide to set-up up small, micro-businesses.
People can be required to work on their own in all sorts of industries, but just because an employee is Working From Home or at a site on their own it doesn't mean they should be less protected than other staff.
In fact, the lone worker probably needs even more protection than other staff because of the unique health and safety problems posed by the isolated individual.
If you are working alone for long periods of time you must be sure that checks have been made on your working conditions and that a robust safety plan is in place, in case anything should go wrong.
What Sort of Jobs Involve Lone Working?
Almost any role can involve an element of lone working but some jobs mean that you will be regularly working on your own.
As technology and the internet start to play a greater role in the world of work it's becoming less necessary for employees to come into an office, so consequently more people are working alone for long periods of time.
Some of the most common situations where you could become a lone worker include:
Premises with just one member of staff like a small shop, petrol station or kiosk.
Self employed people who work alone.
Individuals that work alone in areas away from other staff.
Staff working outside normal hours such as cleaners or security personnel.
Service staff, like social workers, who are regularly outside the office.
Mobile workers like sales representatives or maintenance staff.
What are the Employer's Duties?
Although employers are always legally obliged to safeguard the health and safety of their staff there aren't any specific duties to protect lone workers.
However, under the same general rules organisations must look at all the risks involved in working alone, identify the potential hazards and introduce measures to help control them.
Employers should carry out a Risk Assessment to make sure the job can be conducted safely by a lone worker. They should also identify any training, supervision or additional equipment that may be required.
For homeworkers, employers must also carry out a risk assessment of the role and the place where the job will take place.
If the company employs more than five people the results of the risk assessment must be recorded. In some industries there are specific laws about what jobs can be done alone, so you should check if there are any restrictions.
How can Lone Workers Operate More Safely?
Employers should think about lone and home workers in exactly the same way as all other staff when it comes to health and safety. They should look at all the requirements and needs of the person carrying out the job and make sure they can do it safely.
However, lone workers do have some unique needs that may need more planning. These include:
Personal safety and protection from violence.
Illness or accidents.
Safe entry and exit points.
The suitability of women or young people who may be at greater risk.
Although constant supervision is unrealistic employers are still responsible for staff welfare and as such should have some way of monitoring lone workers. This could include automatic warnings or regular contact over the phone or radio.
Taking Sensible Precautions
If you do any job that qualifies you as a lone worker you should think very carefully about the following:
Do you have adequate ways of communicating with others?
Do you have any medical conditions that could make lone working more risky?
How would you raise the alarm in an emergency?
Could operating any equipment or machinery alone prove dangerous?
Is there a risk of violence?
Can substances or products be handled safely by one person?
If a lone workers(cleaner, caretaker, security etc) is entitled to a break but must ensure they remain on the premises at all times to ensure the safety of an unmanned building can the employer refuse them the right to leave the premises even though their break is unpaid ?
Rlp1977 - 6-Feb-17 @ 8:26 PM
@rhewt - In response to your question: "In my contract it says that we work overtime when required. This used to be every fourth Saturday and Sunday as a lone worker, plus two weekends per year where all staff were in. We raised Health and Safety issues regarding working alone as during our work on a Golf Course, we have to drive a machine across a main road that dissects the course into two halves and there is also a Public Footpath running through the course. This often leads to encounters with unruly youths and as we are in at 5am in order to cut the Greens before the Competition starts, we are in real danger. When discussing lone worker we were told that the club could not afford to pay two staff and four years ago they also stopped one of our weekends with all staff in as we had cost them too much money when rectifying other H&S issues. Now they want us to restart this all in weekend which we do not want to do. Can they force this after ignoring our lone worker issues due to money and the fact that they broke previous custom and practice? Thanks in advance."
You have not included a great deal of information about the terms of your contract, so it's not clear whether this has been broken or not. Check the contract carefully to make sure your hours are not being exceeded etc.Unfortunately the lone worker issue is a separate issue and should be raised with the Health & Safety Executive if you do not feel the sufficient risk reduction measures are in place.
SafeWorkers - 5-Aug-15 @ 1:35 PM
In my contract it says that we work overtime when required. This used to be every fourth Saturday and Sunday as a lone worker, plus two weekends per year where all staff were in. We raised Health and Safety issues regarding working alone as during our work on a Golf Course, we have to drive a machine across a main road that dissects the course into two halves and there is also a Public Footpath running through the course. This often leads to encounters with unruly youths and as we are in at 5am in order to cut the Greens before the Competition starts, we are in real danger. When discussing lone worker we were told that the club could not afford to pay two staff and four years ago they also stopped one of our weekends with all staff in as we had cost them too much money when rectifying other H&S issues. Now they want us to restart this all in weekend which we do not want to do. Can they force this after ignoring our lone worker issues due to money and the fact that they broke previous custom and practice? Thanks in advance.
rhewt - 4-Aug-15 @ 4:41 PM
@privatemc - The regulations state:
"Employers can say when employees take rest breaks during work time as long as:
The break is taken in one go somewhere in the middle of the day (not at the beginning or end)
Workers are allowed to spend it away from their desk or workstation (ie away from where they actually work)
It doesn’t count as a rest break if an employer says an employee should go back to work before their break is finished.
You should try and negotiate with your employer about going outside...get a letter from your doctor if necessary. You should not have to continue serving customers while on your break.
SafeWorkers - 14-Jan-15 @ 9:57 AM
Starting next week I will be lone working 6 days a week for at least 3 months. I know I am entitled by law to 20 minutes break but by my contract states 60 minutes unpaid break to be taken in 3 smaller breaks (2x15minutes and 1x30 minutes). Being epilieptic I have to go outside to get fresh air etc but my employer insists on me not leaving the premises and serving the customer during my break and then returning to my break (which sometimes means you can't get hot meal at lunchtime or any time during the day). Where do I stand with this?
privatemc - 11-Jan-15 @ 8:39 PM
@ Candy - you've not stated the hours you work or the nature of your role, so we can't really advise you on this. Why not ask your employer what their policy is?
SafeWorkers - 25-Jul-14 @ 11:43 AM
I work for Lambeth children centre I work in a stay and play
with parents and children under five , it is free access and I am in a
park. Also have got a disability. I am allowed work on my own.
Candy - 25-Jul-14 @ 10:29 AM
I'm a woman workingin a petrol station on a busy dual carriage way for seven or eight hour shifts with no breaks?
highnoon - 2-Jul-14 @ 9:58 AM
Lobes. Why not try calling the police everytime the 'shoplifter' is in action?
pickles - 24-Jun-14 @ 11:51 AM
I currently work in a service station with me and a member of staff of another unit ,we have a shoplifter who tries to sleep here am is not scared of anythin will do anythin for food and we have 2 arcades open what can I do to get my company to put security inplace x
lobes - 23-Jun-14 @ 3:04 AM
What are the rules about breaks when working alone?
Rover2000 - 11-Aug-13 @ 9:35 PM
I work for a local authority, due to the cut backs, the Security Staff have now stopped attending alarm activations in buildings owned by the authority in pairs, this duty has now been passed to the service I work in I have now been told that I will be attending these alarms by myself and I have been in contact with my union but it has taken over a month to get any answer of them. I afraid that something could happen to me while attending these premises and end up of work which i can not afford.
sheppie - 11-Apr-13 @ 3:10 PM
i work in a petrol station completely alone till late at night with no break yet my breaks are still deducted from my wages what are my rights who helps if i have an accident how do i get to the toilet in peace what if i fall
ang - 8-Apr-13 @ 11:37 PM
I work in a school.I work in a building with 3 floors im a housekeeper.I also have labyrinthitis, Should I be working in this building on my own?I was told it's against the law to work in a building on your own and health and safety. It's very hot in this building and I work really hard that i do start to feel dizzy.My ears have been sore the past few weeks as well. You don't get a signal on your mobile and there is no land line. Whats my rights
cat2 - 20-Aug-12 @ 9:16 PM
I work in a large retirement home/nursing home.I work night shfit (11-7 am).
Recently, I was informed by management that night shift will be cut from 2 staff/1 RPN & 1 PSW/ to just 1 RPN for over 140 residents.We have 2 buildings with 3 floors occupied by the residents.
My question is:Is this legal?Also we at work are concerned with Fire Codes.
Residents are not aware, staff have been warned not to talk about this issue.
Owners have other homes that operate with only one RPN on duty durning the night shift.
Please advise.Thank you.
GAP - 31-Jul-12 @ 3:01 AM
What is the law regarding security when working with money in your offices? What is the minimum security measures that should be in place? We have a security door with a keypad, but other people outside our offices also have been given the security code, and can enter our offices whenever they please with no consideration to the money in these offices, and they have nothing really to do in our offices. Is this allowed?
Babs - 25-Jun-12 @ 9:58 AM
What exactly is the law regarding working with money in your offices - what are the minimum security measures that should be taken regarding other employees not in your department entering said offices? We have a security door, but other people outside our offices/department also have the security code and can enter as and when they please, with no consideration to the money which is in our offices.
Babs - 25-Jun-12 @ 9:51 AM
What is the advice for a lone worker who has been diagnosed with cardiac arythmas
Issy - 11-Oct-11 @ 2:26 PM
I work in an amusement arcade for 9 hours a day as a lone worker. Due to the amount of money kept on the premises and the nature of the business, there is always potential for me to be in danger. Generally speaking I recvieve one phone call a day although this does not always occur. The only way I have of contacting any body is the pay phone on the premises. Are my employers breaking any laws and what rights do I have?
Sal - 30-Sep-11 @ 11:10 PM
There are no absolute restrictions on working alone according to the HSE. You should ask if a risk assessment has been done and then make a judgement as to whether you feel safe. Another reader asked a similar question - here's our answer: Should be be allowed to work alone?
SafeWorkers - 23-May-11 @ 11:30 AM
Is it legal to work an eight hour shift on nights alone working on a switchboard?