Why You Need a Lone Working Policy and How to Write One

Health and safety is one of the biggest concerns for businesses, so how do you ensure your lone working policy covers employees who regularly work on their own? 

Many UK businesses draft a clear, comprehensive lone working policy to enforce certain safety measures for lone workers and their managers. The lone working policy is a written document that tells your entire team the precautions, safety gear, and procedures to take while working alone.

In this article, we’ll cover what a lone working policy is and why it’s important, the components of an effective lone working policy, and how to draft a relevant one that will help your company create a safe working environment for everyone.

What is a lone working policy?

Before getting into what a lone working policy is, let’s step back to get a bigger picture of health and safety policies in general. 

A health and safety policy is a course of action that influences workplace decision-making and guide actions related to workplace health and safety. Essentially, it is a written guide of standards, so all employees know what to do to stay safe on the job and improve workplace safety.

A lone working policy is a standard written policy for the health and safety of lone workers. Why do you need a specific policy for lone workers?

The reason is that lone workers spend time away from other team members. Without a team member within range to help them during an emergency, they face higher risks. They also need different solutions to mitigate these risks. 

Blanket health and safety policies do not cover the specific risks that lone workers face. This is why it is vital to create systems for protecting lone workers while they’re on the job. 

To ease your work, we've also put together a comprehensive step-by-step guide covering how to write a lone working policy. Before you go further, you can download it here.

Standard lone worker policies need to cover the following basics:

  • How an isolated worker should report an emergency
  • The safety precautions lone workers must take while performing a task
  • Any special gear lone workers should wear while on the job
  • The whom lone workers need to report progress from the job site 
  • How often lone workers need to check in with a team member

Multiple factors should be considered when thinking about your lone working policy. These other factors can be divided into two: job-specific risks and situation-specific risks. 

With job-specific risks, some questions you need to ask are:

  • What are the specific risks associated with the employee’s role? 
  • Do they face common risks like falling, electrocution, getting stuck, or getting lost? 
  • Do they work with hazardous materials that can have an impact on long-term health?

Your lone working policy needs to have guidelines to minimise the specific risks lone workers face. The objective of these guidelines is to protect them from immediate danger as well as from hazards that can impact their long-term health. 

As for situation-specific risks, these can include:

  • A lone worker becoming unwell
  • A lone worker being robbed/attacked
  • Natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods that leave lone workers impaired or trapped.

Your lone working policy should have clear, situation-specific procedures and rules to make sure they always have proper protection and know what to do in an emergency. 

The policy also needs to cover the escalation process that other team members need to follow if they lose contact with the lone worker, such as when a lone worker becomes unconscious or unable to communicate for any reason. 

Who are lone workers?

What is the criteria that define a lone worker? Health and Safety Executive (HSE) describes them as “those who work by themselves without close or direct supervision”.

This doesn’t mean lone workers are not part of a team. Instead, it means that their team members are not in close physical range. However, they remain in contact with their colleagues.

For example, a team of cleaners could be working together within the same building, but they are working on different floors. This puts them far enough away from any other member of their team that they cannot see or hear each other through regular sight or hearing range. In this case, each member of the team is considered a lone worker.

Many people may assume that lone workers are isolated from everyone. This isn’t always the case. A lone worker may be working away from their colleagues in the office, but the lone worker could be surrounded by other people or members of the public.

In summary, lone workers are anyone that needs to conduct their duties without a co-worker or team member nearby. This applies to whether they are in a private, enclosed or public workplace, or whether they’re at a fixed location or in commute.

Lone workers encompass a large, diverse group of the working UK population. In fact, some estimates project that upwards of 20% of the UK workforce can be described as lone workers. 

Here are common examples of lone workers:

  • Delivery drivers
  • Maintenance and installation experts
  • Construction workers
  • Agriculture workers
  • Sales employees who visit homes and businesses
  • Factory workers
  • Real estate agents
  • Nannies and house cleaners
  • Electricians, plumbers, and HVAC professionals
  • Travelling consultants
  • Overnight or remote security professionals

This list is not comprehensive. The definition of a lone worker can be applied to hundreds of other roles.

Do I need a lone working policy?

Employers are responsible for the health and safety of their workforce, contractors, and volunteers—and this includes lone workers.

In the UK, employers are obligated to keep their lone workers safe according to the guidelines incorporated within the following legislations:

  • Health and Safety at Work Act 1974
  • Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999
  • Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007
  • Health & Safety Offences Act 2008. 

Fortunately, a good lone working policy is presented as a joint effort between employee and employer to create compliance with these legislations and promote a safe working environment. 

Thus, any employer who has lone workers performing duties for the company—whether the lone workers are employees, contractors, or workforce—needs to have a written lone working policy in place.

A lone worker safety policy exists to tell employees how to remain safe while on the job, as well as how managers and team members should respond in case of an emergency. 

The policy needs to be in writing because health and safety training is not enough on its own. Human memory is inherently fallible. Having a written lone working policy that employees can refer to helps to reduce the mistakes caused by memory fallibility. 

How to draft a lone working policy

Each lone working policy is unique to the company and role. Implement the following three steps as a basic guideline to ensure your lone working policy is effective for your company’s specific working conditions.

Step 1: Understand the risks

Before drafting a lone working policy, employers and managers must first have a clear picture of the working situation and risks lone workers face in their company. 

In our recent 2021 market report, “The State of UK Workplace Safety in 2021,” 25% of respondents reported having low confidence in their manager’s awareness of workplace risks and hazards.

To help you properly evaluate the health and safety risks, as well as the common challenges inherent to lone working in your company, we’ve put together a lone working survey for employees so you can investigate the working habits of your employees and identify the right lone working policies to keep them safe.

Step 2: Gather the right information

In addition to the lone working survey, there are three primary ways to gather the information you need to draft a comprehensive lone working policy: listen to your employees, observe them on the job, and consider previous challenges or problems.

Listen to employees:

  • Conduct a survey to understand the most significant fears or dangers your employees face working by themselves.
  • Take written inventory of all machinery, chemicals, or other hazardous tools a lone worker may come into contact with during their shift.
  • Create focus groups to discuss what policies or procedures would make your employees feel safer on the job.

Observe employees on the job:

  • Pay attention to risks that your employee may not think of. These can include driving or walking through high-crime areas, losing phone signals while working remotely, or having a vehicle run out of gas or break down on their way to a job site.
  • Consider the safety equipment used on the job. Will it adequately protect your employees in case of incidents
  • In the worst-case scenario, what devices or procedures are in place (or lacking) to make sure emergency support can find and aid stranded or injured workers?

Consider previous challenges:

When an incident occurs on the job, ask the employee what went wrong and how your company could potentially prevent a similar occurrence in the future.

Refer to past incidents by speaking to the employees involved and returning to any records from that day.

Consult with companies in similar fields to consider additional incidents that haven’t happened within your company but may otherwise be common to your field.

What to include in a lone worker safety policy:

Once you’ve gathered sufficient information about the safety needs of your lone workers, it’s time to begin forming your actual policy. One of the simplest methods is to turn your policy into a checklist. 

Before pilots take off, they follow a strict checklist to make sure the plane is safe and ready for flight. To be clear: this isn’t a list of recommendations. Pilot checklists include specific, strict guidelines that must be checked off every time.

Your safety policy should be similar. Use instructive language. Instead of saying, “Consider wearing a lone worker device,” say, “All lone workers must wear their lone safety device while working remotely.” The declarative nature of your checklist will ensure greater safety by eliminating choice. These are demands, not considerations.

Use the information you gathered through surveys, questionnaires, and following your employees on the job to create clear rules. 

If the nature of your lone workers’ role changes from day to day, then include if-then style rules. For example, “If you enter a construction site, then you must wear a hardhat the entire time you’re on the premises.” 

A lone working policy should be readily available to all your lone workers and their managers. Lone workers need to know how to perform their job at maximum safety. 

Managers of lone workers need to know what to do in case of an injury or other emergency. Having an up-to-date, written policy is the best way to make sure everyone can access the information they need.

Step 3: Complete the essential lone working policy sections

The essential sections of a lone working policy are:

Policy Aim

A policy aim is the broad goal of a policy document. They are written to make people aware of the goals the company is trying to achieve with the policy. Having a policy aim gets all employees aligned with the objective of your lone working policy. 

Policy Scope

A policy scope outlines the limitations and boundaries of a policy. This includes what is included in the policy, who it applies to, and where it stands in relation to other policies you have enforced in your company. 

Health & Safety Procedures

In this section, you need to outline all health and safety procedures that are specific to keeping your lone workers safe. This includes guidelines to:

  • Report incidents and hazards;
  • Identify and implement corrective and preventive actions;
  • Conduct risk assessments to identify risks attributed to any lone working task;
  • Conduct inspections and audits; and
  • Any other health and safety guidelines specific to your company.

Roles and Responsibilities

Next, you need to outline the roles and responsibilities of everyone covered by the policy scope. This section needs to answer the following questions:

  • What procedures do lone workers need to do to stay safe while conducting their duties alone?
  • What do line managers, team managers, or supervisors need to know, do, follow up, or manage in order to make sure the lone workers under their responsibility are not exposed to unnecessary risks and can get the help they need during an emergency?
  • What do senior managers need to do to ensure their company’s procedures are compliant with health and safety laws and regulations?

Health and Safety Training

This section does not have to detail every health and safety training that those covered in the policy scope need to attend or adhere to. Rather, it needs to state the obligations they have towards health and safety training in general. 

Appendix

Finally, the appendix section should include relevant details related to the health and safety procedures, such as a list of properties and assets that need to be regularly inspected or audited and a list of safety equipment that lone workers must wear when working in specific working conditions. 

Writing a lone policy with all these sections from scratch can be very time consuming and confusing. To make it easier for you, we’ve put together a lone working policy template that you can download for free and adapt to your company’s specific lone working needs. 

How to enforce a lone working policy

Enforcing a new policy is easiest when everyone understands why the policy exists. Make it clear to employees that following the rules in your lone working policy is mandatory to their job. Explain that your highest priority is employee safety, which means strict adherence to health and safety rules.

If you design your lone working policy in the form of a checklist, you can require lone workers to turn in the filled-out checklist each day before going to the job. This ensures they bring along any safety gear, lone worker safety device, or proper tools for safely accomplishing their job.

How often should you update your policy?

There is no strict frequency here. As your employees go to the worksite every day, you and your employees will inevitably find new rules to add to the lone working policy. It’s wise to perform regular surveys and focus groups with your team to ensure your policy is up to date and considers any new threats, tools, or challenges. 

Expect to take a hard look at your lone worker safety policy at least once per year to determine which elements need to be updated or added.

A Safer Workplace for Lone Workers

When you have a comprehensive lone working policy, you ensure your company meets its obligations for HSE compliance to keep your lone workers as safe as possible. 

This can help you reduce workplace incidents, which can benefit your company in numerous ways—from saving money on costs related to incidents to improving employee happiness and productivity, elevating retention rates, and boosting company reputation. 

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