Lone Working Policy – A Guide to Safety & Risk Assessments

Staff who work alone often have concerns for their safety at work. Our guide explains what lone working is, and outlines health and safety law, around working alone. We’ll also examine which policies and risk assessments should be put in place to keep workers safe during shifts.

lone worker safety - security guard alone in a yard.
It is vital to have the right policies and risk assessments in place to protect lone workers.

People can be required to work on their own in all sorts of industries. But if an employee is Working From Home or at a site on their own, they still need protection.

The lone worker probably needs more protection than other staff because of the health and safety issues posed by working alone.

If you’re working alone for long periods of time you must be sure that checks have been made on your working conditions. A good lone worker safety plan should be place, in case anything should go wrong.

What is Lone Working?

Lone workers are people who work alone and separate from other workers, without any direct supervision.

A lone worker is not necessarily completely alone in the workplace such as a night security guard, or petrol station worker.

The definition also applies to anyone working in isolation from the rest of the workforce. For example, someone working alone in a warehouse or store room would also be defined as a lone worker.

What Sort of Jobs Involve Lone Working?

Almost any role can involve an element of lone working. However, some jobs mean that you will be regularly working on your own.

As technology and the internet start to play a greater role at work it’s now less necessary for employees to come into an office. This means more people are in jobs where you work alone for long periods of time.

Some of the most common situations where you could be a lone worker include:

  • Workplaces with just one member of staff like a small shop, petrol station or kiosk.
  • Homeworkers.
  • 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 staff.
  • Service staff, like social workers, who are regularly outside the office.
  • Mobile workers like sales representatives or maintenance staff.

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.

Can You Refuse to Work Alone?

There is no legal reason that prohibits working alone. However, your employer does have a duty of care to make sure you are safe at work.

Proper risk assessments must take place to identify any risks to your safety while working alone. Measures should be put in place to reduce any risk to employees.

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.

The two laws covering lone worker safety are:-

  • Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
  • Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

Can You Refuse to Work Alone?

There is no legal reason that prohibits working alone. However, your employer does have a duty of care to make sure you 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.

Risk Assessments

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:-

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.

These include:

1. Training

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.

Related Reading:-

Lone Working FAQ’s

Can I refuse to work alone?

There’s no legal reason why you can refuse to work alone. However, UK health and safety law requires employers to perform risk assessment around all roles. They should have measures in place which will ensure it is safe for you to work alone. If a risk assessment hasn’t been done, or you find yourself in a lone working situation that is drastically different from your contracted role, you may be able to refuse to work alone.

Is it illegal to work on your own?

Working on your own is perfectly legal. Your employer should have performed a risk assessment on your role and taken measures to ensure you are safe. Health and safety legislation only prohibits a person from working alone if a risk assessment has been performed and has found the job can’t be done safely by a lone worker.

31 thoughts on “Lone Working Policy – A Guide to Safety & Risk Assessments

  1. Viren says:

    We are IT shift workers and work in an office building which is empty of other employees outside of office hours. There is a security person on night shifts and weekends but due to their work times there is still a few hours where we are completely alone. Is this safe and legally okay?

  2. Gv says:

    I work for a retail store that operates 24hrs. There are time when I was left by my self because the other worker call in. The store is not in a safe place. The time that I was left by myself, I couldn’t get a hold of other managment team. I just want to know is it okay for me a female to work alone at night for a retail store that open 24hr.

  3. Me says:

    Hi I work in a phone shop 99% of the time on my own. I suffer from a few medical conditions one being non epileptic attack disorder. I have upto 15 attacks a week and work did a care plan but don’t follow it. Is this legal?

  4. Sue says:

    I was left on site of work on my own with no one from the company that I work for to help if I need it was not allow the use of a mobile phone inside the building no way of talking to my manager!! And i was not pregnant ??!! But there was all ways more then two – 3 or 4 people on site with the company I work for but I was left on my own!! I am a woman ?? do I have any right i have not been there 2 years yet!! And i have accident at work with no one to help ?? me.

  5. Sindy says:

    I work in a hospital switchboard working lone nights we have emergency phone in our office for cardiacs ect but are told were covered if this phone goes off whilst we go to the toilet On my shift many years ago someone died I wasn’t there to answer emergency phone they said it’s ok

  6. Dee says:

    I work in a busy hotel as a kitchen porter, it’s in the middle of nowhere and about 2 miles from my home, when I’m working at night there’s times I don’t finish till 1am, by that time all managers an other employees are away apart from the night porter who once I leave are All night, but my issue is there are no taxis at that time as my town is tiny an only have 1 taxi who finish at 12am, so some nights I have to walk home, its a busy main road with no street lights for a good half a mile, I use my torch on my mobile, should my employer ensure I get home safely? I am female in my late 40s, but it is quite scary H where there’s no street lights. Thanks for any advice.

  7. PBnJ says:

    I work for a large hotel company, who honestly couldn’t give two hoots what happens to their staff. One of my colleagues was attacked by a guest while I was on furlough. I was dragged back in while she had time to recover. A few weeks ago I and another colleague were attacked. Our shift patterns are 7-3, 3-11, 11-7. I used to be on the early shifts, which meant as the only female i worked alongside other colleagues. Now that upstairs have decided that the managers can do my job along with their own i have been posted to work on the later shifts which means for 7 hours of my shift i am alone in a hotel with no support. I’ve been threatened more times that i can count over one silly issue or another even yesterday someone threatened to follow me home and break into my house and hurt me. Head office have told us we are fine and to not over react, even though after the last attack (of which i have received no counselling or time off to recover from) i could have ended up blind from the assault. I am already planning on leaving but when i go it will leave my colleagues with even less support. They have just dragged the girl back who was attacked before me, she jumps at every sound.

  8. Maggie says:

    I work in a busy shop 9-5, i,m told I have to lone work now, the shop is a big shop and all facilities are 2 flights of stairs up, I was tested 2 years ago for a possible mini stroke which resulted as inconclusive, i am refusing point blank to work alone as if I fall anywhere from the stair to upper floor or upstairs no-one could possibly see me,

  9. RedOx says:

    I work at a fuel station, It is a 24 hour establishment and and is usually staffed by 1 person from 14h00 till 22h00 then another from 22h00 till 06h00. The morning shift from 06h00 till 14h00 usually has more staff due to delivery in the convenience store. The store is also open 24 hours. Is it legal to run the business like this? There is no opportunity for staff to break to use the bathroom or have a rest break at all. All cash is also available on site even though it is in a drop safe the safe is on site.

  10. J says:

    I wondered if i could get some advice I currently work at a country club bar which is on the outskirts of a small town since returning to work I’ve been informed that I’ll be working alone from 2 pm till 10pm 2 evenings a week and 2 other ladies do the same shifts alone on the other 4 days we all have keys to this premises now and have to cash up lock up the entire building that has money on the premises in the dark alone and then once I leave the car park I have to lock the large gate behind me as I leave which is situated on a country lane with no street lights I also have to get out of my car to physically do this it’s quite scary and I’m only paid minimum wage I have no Panic alarms or anything and it’s making me really anxious please advise me on any opinions I have ?

  11. Fuckoof says:

    Am working in a warehouse tomorrow with no first aider or fire warden or a folk lift drive on my own and someone is coming to open up and then leaving, is that legal

  12. Carla Brown says:

    I work alone in the evening with the door open & drive thru. I don’t feel safe Can I lock the door since the drive thru is open

  13. Sweety says:

    I am a lone worker in a shop. I have been told that i have to lock the only door in the premises when there are three customers in the shop. Is this legal

  14. Nell says:

    I work at a servo a good 45 mins drive from closest town. They have cut us back to one person doing the close at night. Told us if we don’t do the shift we will loose hours. We feel it is very unsafe to do so by oneself. Can they do that to us.

  15. Drimmer32 says:

    Hi I’ve bern working on my own , I’m a florist with just the driver and owner coming in . The othe full time girl has been furloughed but due to come back in , but she been working her second job , caring for people after work before lock down started . I’m not happy with her coming back as really not the space apart from each other and incase she is a carrier, i would like some advise please

  16. July says:

    Hi I hope you can help me me I’m on direct payments I’ve not had no signs of covid-19 my carer has also had no signs of covid-19 and also in the family I am disabled and live on my own Caroline is my carer can she come back to full-time work or if she says she doesn’t want to come back She’s Scared what can I do do do

  17. Joko says:

    I work alone in a petrol station with quite a large shop, and 10 petrol pumps, with an open door, there used to be 2 people on every shift, but they have reduced it to 1 person, is this allowed

  18. Zman says:

    I work constuction at a vacated house and work with my wife. There is about 300 to 400 ft. from neighbors. Why am I not allowed to work on this project without worrying about loosing my buisness license and fined up to a Thousand dollars and or jail time. I called the local police departmet and could not guarantee me that I would not be fined. I was doing good financially and now I’m back to broke. I call bu crap. There should be standards sure, but if Im not causing any unknown transmition of Covid 19 I should be allowed to live my life, pay my bills and provide for my family. Thanks for reading. Zachary M.

  19. Peter Loose says:

    I am researching a national conference we will be putting on in Birmingham in June about overnight support for organisations which provide social care to disabled people. Do you have expertise you may be able to contribute t this event either as a speaker, workshop facilitator or by operating an exhibition stand? The trigger for this event is the Supreme Court review of “the sleep-in crisis” about rates of pay for staff providing sleep-in duties. Regardless of the outcome of this case the model for providing sleeping or waking support at night needs to be reviewed and this conference aims to look at options.

  20. Lee says:

    I’m 18 years old doing an apprenticeship and my company sends me to job off site with my own van and with no help I was wondering if that is legal to do so?

  21. Not Safe says:

    My 16 year old works at a bakery that makes sandwiches. She was given a key to work alone, at night sometimes getting off at 8:30 or 9:00 pm, no grown up on site. She cooks, operates the cash register, cleans up, takes out the trash behind the building at night, and locks up at closing. I don’t know what she does with the cash, never asked. She was told not to lock the doors to only let customers in. I don’t feel safe with her doing that, anything can happen. Is this practice allowed in Wisconsin?

  22. Ashley says:

    I work at a gas station. Most of the time I am alone for at least 7 to 10 hours. Is it illegal for my employer to tell me I can not walk away from my register to use the restroom when I am alone??? How else am I supposed to go?! They cant possibly be able to prevent us from going to the bathroo.. that’s something you just cant help.

  23. Jovanna says:

    I work i a bakery where we bake everything we also do bacon sandwiches , on Saturday I was left to work on my own for 5 hours , so including the cooking and serving on the till which I find a bit concerning as you may end up really burning yourself or falling over ! No one would be there to help you surely this is health and safety issue ?

  24. OB says:

    Iv been on the sick for 9 months in that time I had a disciplinary I wasnt sacked over this iam still on the sick and iv been told that my locker has been emtyed and my draw in the office is this a loud ? as still employed by them ?

  25. D says:

    I have worked at a University for 33 years. In past years, I have never been left alone (if I have had to work the day after Thanksgiving/Christmas) running the office. There was always another staff member or student worker. This year I was left alone the day after Christmas on a very deserted big campus. My understanding was that I was to have a another person working with me, but found out when I came to work I did not. I had to work the day after Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, but had a student with me the day after Thanksgiving, but not for Christmas. My concern is (and you never anticipate,) if I was not feeling well or if someone decided to come into the office and either argued, etc I would not have anyone with me. This makes me nervous. I work on the front lines of the office so not having someone else in the office I feel is unacceptable. Especially for someone like me who has worked on the campus for 33 years. I should be respected and regarded a little bit more than I have been for coverage.

  26. Mtb says:

    Hi I work in a large shopping center were the past couple of months ive been moving furniture on my own (large settees chairs and rugs) all around 20kg plus and some heavier things, for example the lighest item is a rug but when rolled up its takes 3 people to move and carry, ive had manual handling and a risk assesment about the this,but i feel when i get called to this task that the furniture is too heavy,even tho ive had maunal handling and a risk assesment can i refues to lift these heavy objects??

  27. Worried wife says:

    Hi my husband works as a support worker with in a all girls foster home there have been times he has be left to work on his own when there is ment to be atleast 2 night starf and I his line of work some of these children have been known to make false allegations against previous members of staff and he has also been put on shift with all Male staff he has also been attacked at work on several occasions due to the fack his job is of a high risk nature and yet it seem as if the managers refuse to put safe guarding in place as on one occasion his area manager requested him not to press charges after he was attacked at work and the incident in which it occurred during was severe enough to call the police he is extremely unhappy and is trying to hold on but it’s to the point he wants to hand in the notice what are his right and proccedures

  28. Davo says:

    Hello, I have had some colleagues who have done out of hours work, in big warehouses, at night on there own, working on plant equipment ( cherry pickers,scissor lifts) 5/6 metres up. There have been some people working in the warehouse but not directly with my colleagues. Also who have no experience on the equipment we use. I’m sure this is completely wrong and they should be double manned?

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