Lone workers are often more vulnerable to harm if their employers and supervisors do not assess the potential risks that lone working poses. They have a legal responsibility to ensure the Health & Safety of all employees, including lone workers, and consider all risks are minimised as far as is reasonably practicable.
The HSE defines a lone worker as:
Someone who works by themselves without close or direct supervision Lone workers include those who:
work from a fixed base, such as one person working alone on a premises (eg, shops, petrol stations etc);
work separately from others on the same premises (eg security staff) or work outside normal hours;
work away from a fixed base (eg, maintenance workers, health care workers, environment inspectors);
work at home (homeworkers); and
mobile workers (eg, taxi drivers).
Data from the Crime Survey for England and Wales suggests that there were an estimated 694,000 incidents of violence at work in 2017-18. According to the Labour Force Survey, nine out of every ten workers who were assaulted were public sector staff. - IOSH.
Just because an employee may be out of sight, it should not mean that they are out of mind. Lone working is a daily activity for almost 6 million people in the UK.
As well as violence, lone workers are at risk from illness or accidents (and not receiving immediate help), theft or intruders or incidents related to driving.
Many organisations are allowing employees to work from home or work remotely to allow for flexibility and while there are quite a few benefits to lone working positions, it does pose risks from external dangers and unsafe working conditions. Lone workers will come into contact with many risks that other employees do not, but the difference is that receiving help might not be as easily accessible. The inability to effectively manage or supervise lone workers can have serious consequences including, but not limited to, absenteeism, low morale, damaged reputation and fines for employers.
Is lone working legal?
Lone working is legal. While there is specific legislation for some industries of higher risk regarding lone workers, generally speaking, it is allowed as long as employers have performed a risk assessment for them - like all other employees who work within a fixed workplace. This risk assessment will determine if it is safe for the employee to work alone or whether the risk is too high.
Hazards/risks that lone workers might be exposed to
The HSE found that some of the most common risks to lone workers were:
- Alcohol and drug use from clients or members of the public that come into contact with the lone worker
- The location that the lone worker is working in (e.g. areas of higher violence)
- Jobs with higher authority can cause resentment and cause people to be aggressive
- The emotion of a client or customer
- Members of the public or animals that are encountered on the job
- Carrying things of value like money, laptops and phones
Other risks may include:
- Accidents or illness and the lack of first aid provisions or assistance
- Sudden illness
- Overworking and the inability to ensure employees are taking regular breaks, water and food
Minimising the risk to lone workers
Here are useful tips to maintain the health and safety of those working alone…
Line managers should ensure they have effective and regular contact with lone workers. And should be encouraged to complete sufficient training to know the importance of safety in the team, the organisation’s procedures for lone working and that all employees and managers should follow the same processes. There should be a positive culture towards training and procedures so that everyone understands that it is important and so that there is a uniform approach to it.
Make sure lone workers feel part of the team
Even if lone workers are very rarely seen by others, it is important to keep in contact with lone working employees to ensure they still feel part of the team and that they are not kept out of the loop.
Those working alone should also be entitled to the same benefits, recognition and rewards that those based in the workplace have access to. This includes being able to take part in training and personal development.
Fostering good communication is essential to have trust and commitment between staff of all levels. Make sure that you establish a good two-way communication between managers and lone workers. Offer them regular catch-ups with other lone workers to share experiences and lessons they’ve learned.
You should also ensure you have an open-door policy for any issues lone workers have and keep in regular contact with them, including making sure that they check-in at the end of their shift.
Create a positive culture around safety
- To create a positive culture surrounding safety for lone workers, employers/managers might consider:
- From the early stages of employment that all employees are aware of policies. procedures and your company's approach to lone working. This includes appropriate Lone Worker Training.
- If someone leaves a situation mid-task because they feel uncomfortable or unsafe, make sure you respond correctly. A negative response may stick with the individual and prevent them from leaving an unsafe situation in the future.
- Have regular catch-ups (e.g. weekly or monthly, depending on your organisation) whether they are one to ones or team meetings to promote discussion and learning from past incidents or near misses.
- Provide timely and effective post-incident support.
- Do not forget how past events might have affected an individual's mental health and wellbeing. Ensure regular catch-ups.
- That training and procedures are consistent to all lone workers.
Training for all employees either managing or undertaking lone working is essential to make sure a consistent system is being used for all staff. Training, support and development for managers should be provided by organisations to minimise the risks of managers not being able to fulfil responsibilities to employees.
We provide Lone Worker Training for employees both IN and OUT of the workplace, as well as other training that lone workers might require including Driver Awareness Training, Risk Assessment Training and Conflict Resolution training, all of which can be found in our Lone Worker Bundle.