Staff who work alone often have concerns for their safety at work. Our guide explains what lone working is, and outlines the policies and risk assessments which should be put in place to keep workers safe during shifts.
Lone Working Defined
A lone worker is a member of staff who regularly works alone without close or direct supervision. An example of this might be a night security guard, or someone working in a petrol station.
Is it Legal To Work Alone?
We’re often asked the question: Is it legal to work alone? It is not against the law to work alone, and in many cases it is safe to do so. The law does, however, require employers to make sure that their employees are ‘reasonably’ safe. This means that employers must consider the health and safety risks of the job being carried out, and also any risks caused by the employee working alone.
Lone Working Legislation & Regulations
Lone working does not have specific legislation covering rules on working alone. It is covered under general UK health and safety legislation. Employers have a duty of care to ensure their employees are safe at work. It’s the employers responsibility to ensure risk assessments are undertaken, and safety measures carried out to ensure the safety of lone workers.
Similarly, the employee has a responsibility to follow health and safety procedures laid out by the employer to minimise risk at work.
Employers who have five or more workers must not only carry out risk assessments, but also record any significant findings, and list the control measures put in place to manage any risks identified.
Employers of lone workers have a responsibility to:-
- Carry out a risk assessment about the role.
- Ensure the job can be done safely by one person.
- Provide appropriate training to the lone worker.
- Remain in contact with the employee during work hours.
- Have an effective plan to respond to any workplace incidents.
In some industries, there are industry-specific restrictions on tasks which may be carried out by a lone worker. These include transporting explosives and fumigation work. Your employer should be aware of any industry-specific restrictions.
Lone Working Risks & Hazards
Many of the common risks faced by lone workers are the same as those in all workplaces. The level of risk is increased by the fact that the workers will not have any assistance to hand should an accident at work happen.
Risks of lone working which you may wish to consider in a risk assessment include:-
- Verbal abuse and violence.
- Slips, trips and falls.
- Stress and mental health issues.
- Manual Handling.
- Working with hazardous substances.
Assessing Risks For Specific Individuals
An employer will usually have done a general risk assessment for the lone working role. However, employers must also think about the specific employee hired for that role and adapt their risk assessment.
Employees who may need special adjustments to manage any additional risk cause include:
- Pregnant workers.
- Young workers (under 18 years old).
- Disabled workers.
- Female workers in some roles (note that being a woman in itself is not a special condition).
- An employee with a health condition which means they should not lone work.
Employers do need to check that their employees have no medical conditions that make them unsuitable for working alone. They may need to seek medical advice in this regard in some cases.
Employees also have a duty to tell the employer about any medical conditions that may affect their ability to perform a role.
Lone Working Policy
Employees working alone should have access to a lone working policy. Creating the policy after a risk assessment has taken place will ensure the policy is effective. The policy should offer practical tips and lay out procedures for improved workplace safety. A lone working policy can help create a good culture of safety in the workplace, and reduce the risk of legal issues for the employer.
Supervision of Lone Workers
Lone workers cannot be constantly supervised. However they do still need some supervision. The level of supervision required, will depend upon the work being carried out and the risk involved in the role; the greater the risk, the greater the level of supervision that will be required.
In some cases this will be regular “check-ins” with a manager, whilst in other roles, this might simply be periodic site visits by a manager. The only requirement is that the procedure in place ensures that you are safe.
In the case of large amounts of money on the premises, a “check-in” phone call may not be deemed necessary to ensure safety and so no law is being broken if this is not carried out. If a robbery or attempted robbery does occur, you should in the first instance always call the police. You can then contact your employer to report the problem once you are safe.
Dealing With Emergencies
Procedures should be in place for lone workers to allow them to respond correctly to emergencies. In many cases, this will involve some sort of training as to the best practice in emergency situations. For example, a bomb threat, fire, gas leak or discovery of a break in at the workplace.
Employees should have access to first-aid equipment, and mobile workers should carry a small first-aid kit suitable for treating minor injuries. Risk assessment may also indicate the lone employees be given first aid training.
Some employers will have in place systems to trigger emergency alarms. For example silent alarms, emergency personal buzzers, or electronic inactivity systems. However there is no specific legal requirement to do so.
Reducing the Risk of Lone Working
Employers may use many different methods to reduce risks caused by lone working and make sure their employees are safe.
Many employers will use training to discuss emergency procedures. They may also provide additional training to address particular concerns such a money handling or off-site visits. For example, a requirement to lock doors before counting cash and keep all cash in a safe. It may also include a requirement to “check-in” with a 24hr reception or log your visits in some way.
2. Personal Monitored Alarms
These connect into your phone line (even if you are not at home) and works like a two-way radio with a 24/7 call centre (research further at www.callsafe.org). However there is a cost for these (usually about £180 per year).
3. Personal Attack Alarm
These have a pin which when pulled out emits a loud noise. These can help to scare off any attacker and also alert other members of the public. These can be bought cheaply online and in shops (some for less than £5) and so employees may chose to buy their own to attach to a key ring or belt.
4. 24 Hour Reception / “Buddy System”
Some larger workplaces will have a 24 hour reception with which employees can “check in”, to monitor off-site movements. For smaller businesses the same can be achieved with a “buddy system”. This involves calling or texting another employee to let them know the address you are attending and how long you expect to be there. You then text them again when you safely leave. If they do not hear back from you within a short period after you should have left an off-site location, they can then try to get in touch with you. If they can’t contact you, they then come to the location, or call the police to report a potential situation.
Our guide to personal safety for lone workers has more tips on staying safe in solo roles.
Employee Concerns About Lone Working
An employer should discuss health and safety issues with employees often. Some employers may also choose to discuss any risks with employees so that they have an involvement in any risk management procedures put in place.
- Our health and safety expert advises a reader who is concerned about her husband working alone at night.
- HSE guide to lone working.
Last Updated on 9 August 2021