The safety of your lone workers is the responsibility of every employer. If you are in charge of any lone workers across your business, it’s likely you’re already well aware of your responsibility to ensure your lone workers are protected and that health and safety regulations are being met.
However, you might not have full clarity on everything that involves lone working, from developing the right steps that ensure HSE compliance to tools that can help you ensure the safety of your lone workers. There are also many aspects of health and safety law that you may not be aware of.
To fully understand your role and responsibilities towards lone workers, we’ve put together this complete guide to lone working to help demystify everything about lone worker protection. We’ll cover lone working definitions, unique risks, regulations, assessment procedures, policies, lone worker devices and the latest solutions.
This ultimate guide will also provide references to tools and templates to help you implement the steps in this guide.
What is a lone worker? The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) defines lone workers as “those who work by themselves without close or direct supervision”. It’s estimated that 8 million people across the UK can be defined as a lone worker, which is about 1 in every 4 people of the 31.2 million UK working population.
The term ‘lone worker’ does not mean they’re not part of a team, nor does it mean they are necessarily working in isolation without the presence of any person.
Rather, lone workers are anyone whose job scope includes duties that will have them working without a co-worker or team member present, whether they are in a private, enclosed, or public workplace.
Lone workers can also be working in teams within the same vicinity or building, but they are located far enough away from their teammates and/or manager that they are out of sight and out of hearing range, whether that’s at a fixed location, on the road, or somewhere else.
Recent years and months have also seen a steady rise in the number of people previously based in office environments working from home instead. Remote working is also legally recognised as a form of lone working.
It is an employer’s responsibility to manage the safety risks of anyone that is legally defined as a lone worker, whether they’re working from home, a volunteer, or any other form of lone working. Measures such as keeping in touch with staff, monitoring stress levels, and ensuring that everyone has the correct equipment should be observed across the board.
It’s important to note the HSE has identified certain work situations that cannot be performed alone. These include:
Lone working situations other than these will have different types and levels of risk that employers need to identify, assess, and then manage by:
Taking these three steps would be in compliance with the following laws:
Here is an overview of the different types of risks lone workers face in different situations. Take note that a lone worker can fall into one or more categories, depending on the nature of their job.
Working with the public
Examples of lone workers: Security guards, police officers, retail workers, caregivers, food delivery workers, real estate workers.
Unfortunately, lone workers are more at risk of physical violence, threat and robbery than those operating close to their colleagues. According to statistics from the British Safety Council’s crime survey released in 2018, as many as 150 lone workers are attacked daily in the UK, either physically or verbally.
This is primarily because they are more likely to work in remote areas, either early in the morning or late at night, and can be in charge of enforcing rules for the public.
Dangers can be lessened with adequate training and preparation, teaching workers to identify situations that may lead to violence or confrontation and develop techniques that diffuse the situation. These tactics can help those in roles such as security guards, police officers, retail or caregivers to reduce injury, stress and other adverse effects of working alone in a public-facing role.
Examples of lone workers: Engineers, cleaners, laboratory technicians, off-shore workers, miners, cable technicians, drivers, food delivery workers, plumbers, electricians.
Environmental hazards for lone workers is a common issue. Four of the top five causes of workplace accidents involve factors related to an employee’s workspace. These are:
Various steps can be taken to mitigate these risks if they can’t be eliminated altogether. For example, falls from height can be prevented by the following working from height regulations, which includes assessing the safety of ladders, scaffolding and surfaces, avoiding work during periods of bad weather, and properly securing any materials that could fall from another level and injure the employee.
Working on the road
Examples of lone workers: Drivers, food delivery, emergency workers, real estate workers, mobile salespeople.
In addition to following the rules of road traffic legislation, employers responsible for lone workers on the roads must ensure that health and safety regulations are also observed.
This includes monitoring the number of hours workers spend driving, whether the vehicle itself belongs to the company or has been outsourced from a third party of the employee themselves, and making sure that supervisors are able to communicate with drivers in case of incidents such as a road accident or breakdown.
Working from home
Examples of lone workers: Office workers working remotely, gig-economy workers, consultants.
Employees working from home either full-time, part-time, as a gig worker, or as a volunteer have the same rights as those working on-site. Employers have the same responsibilities to ensure their health and safety.
While employees on-site should be provided with adequate equipment such as ergonomic chairs to support their physical health, the main issue that tends to arise with a remote workforce that falls under an employer’s responsibility comes under mental rather than physical health.
When employees have to work alone, stress and isolation can negatively affect their mental health. Stress Management Standards include factors such as managing relationships with and support from other workers and managers. By providing avenues and procedures that ensure regular contact with and support from other co-workers and managers in a remote working environment, employers can alleviate the negative impact of stress and isolation.
In summary so far, there are many different combinations of risks a lone worker can face. The first step to avoid or minimise the severity of unfavourable outcomes from these risks, employers should conduct a thorough risk assessment, which we cover in-depth in the next section.
Conducting a lone worker risk assessment is one of the most important things that those responsible for employee safety should do. Not only does it help businesses to identify potential hazards associated with their industry and workspace, but it also makes the creation of a lone worker policy much easier and more effective.
As we covered in the previous sections, risks can either be very general or extremely specific to your industry. For example, a retail worker probably won’t need to worry about working at height, but a roofer isn’t likely to be interacting much with the public. To complete a useful risk assessment, it is best to follow a system that ensures you’ve identified all possible risks so you can follow up with training, monitoring systems, risk mitigation steps, and emergency response procedures to protect your lone workers while they are on duty.
It is also important to remember that conducting a risk assessment is required by law in the UK. Keeping a regularly updated record of your risk assessments is actually a legal requirement if you employ five or more people and not doing so will put your company at risk of being handed huge fines or worse.
Performing a lone working risk assessment first consists of five steps.
Attempting to delve into a lone worker risk assessment for the first time without a guide or template can lead to mistakes, and it could cost you—the average fine for violations of HSE regulations is estimated to be about £120,000.
A lone working risk assessment template, like the one you can find here, is an easy way for you to determine where your business needs to improve, create new policies, or fine-tune existing regulations relating to health and safety.
The next step after completing the lone worker risk assessment is to create your lone worker policy. A good lone worker policy will cover everything that has been assessed and decided during the risk assessment process.
The policy becomes a one-stop resource for lone workers and those appointed to be responsible for adherence to the policy. Having a policy in place fulfils the responsibility of the employer to communicate rules and regulations around health and safety to their workforce.
Putting together a lone working policy can be completed by one person or several, so long as the people involved are experienced and knowledgeable to complete the policy with clarity and competence.
If you employ five or more people, then this policy must be in writing. It’s useful to speak with employees about any potential changes that may occur, both before your lone worker policy is finalised and afterwards.
Check out our guide, “Writing a Lone Worker Policy: Your Step by Step Guide” for industry best-practices and guidance on what to include in your lone working policy document.
Once your lone worker policy is completed, it is now your employees’ responsibility to understand and adhere to the policies designed to keep them safe. While employees have their role to play, it is important for managers to ensure their employees understand how to implement the policy by providing training that helps your employees properly adhere to the lone worker policy.
In summary, lone workers require more specific attention than general workers when it comes to health and safety procedures.
Despite the need for specific lone worker health and safety solutions, there is a tendency for lone worker protection to be seen as either an afterthought or an unnecessary expense in the health and safety world. The reason this happens is likely due to how the intricacies and additional steps of focusing on lone working safety can feel like a difficult burden upon managers and employers.
However, as you can now see, conducting a lone worker risk assessment and writing a lone worker policy doesn’t need to be complicated when you have a headstart with the right templates and guidelines.
Monitoring and creating top-notch working procedures don’t need to be complicated either, thanks to the lone worker safety devices and mobile apps now available for lone working.
Lone worker alarms, for example, allow users to access help and assistance whenever they need it, with features such as an SOS button and Man Down sensor that detects when they have taken a fall.
These personal safety devices can often just be clipped on a belt or worn on a lanyard and will connect the wearer with contacts from their own company or, alternatively, highly-trained operators who can alert emergency responders if necessary.
Lone worker alarms are only as effective as the workforce management software or alarm monitoring procedures behind it. Our own Protector™ software keeps track of workers via real-time GPS data and stores details of all activation alerts for access later.
This can be invaluable when it comes time to update your policy, as you’ll be working from real information rather than hypotheticals. To experience first-hand how this can impact your organisation, you can request a free trial of Protector™ via our contact form here.
Lone worker protection can be viewed with apprehension by many businesses, but it doesn’t have to feel like a burden. With the right tools and procedures in place, health & safety professionals can respectively meet the safety and compliance needs of their workers and organisation without feeling overwhelmed by the specific intricacies of lone worker protection.