What is a Lone Worker? A Guide for Employers

October 12, 2020
Caroline Preece

It’s estimated that 8 million people across the UK can be defined as a lone worker. Whether working with the public as security staff or carers, or in environments presenting unique hazards such as warehouses or factories, these employees are subject to greater risk than workers in other professions, and it is essential for employers to understand the intricacies that exist around caring for them.

So what is a lone worker? In a nutshell, a lone worker is someone who works alone, whether that’s all or just some of the time.

That may sound like an oversimplification, but 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 truth is that writing a lone worker policy, investing in safety devices, and creating top-notch working procedures doesn’t need to be complicated.

In fact, the chances are that if you are in charge of any lone workers across your business, you’re already well aware that specific steps need to be taken to ensure both their protection and that health and safety regulations are being met. In this article, we’ll attempt to demystify lone worker protection by covering the different terms and what they mean for employers.

Lone Worker Definition

The HSE defines lone workers as “those who work by themselves without close or direct supervision”, but the term doesn’t just cover those who are physically alone during their workday. A lone worker will be located separately from their teammates and/or their manager, whether that’s at a fixed location, on the road or somewhere else.

Common examples of lone workers are:

  • Construction workers
  • Farmers and agricultural workers
  • Salespeople who visit homes and businesses
  • Factory workers
  • Real estate agents
  • Cleaners
  • Electricians
  • Plumbers
  • Security professionals
  • Delivery drivers
  • Nannies
  • Carers

But of course, that doesn’t even scratch the surface, and recent years and months have also seen a steady rise in the number of people previously based in office environments working from home instead.

While the risks are not the same for someone who works at home as they are for a builder or engineer, remote employees are still classed as lone workers by the law. 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.

In short, employers are required under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations to manage the risk to lone workers by:

  • Training, supervising and monitoring lone workers
  • Mitigating risks in the workplace
  • Quickly and efficiently responding to incidents

Working Alone Regulations

Working with the public

Unfortunately, lone workers are more at risk of physical violence, threat and robbery than those operating close to their colleagues. 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.

High-risk work

Oftentimes the risks lone workers face are environmental, with four of the top five causes of workplace accidents involving factors related to an employee’s workspace. These are:

  • Slips, trips and falls on the same level
  • Handling, lifting or carrying
  • Being struck by a moving object
  • Falls from height

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 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.

To avoid bad outcomes from environmental risk factors, employers should conduct a thorough risk assessment, which you can read more about below.

Working on the road

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 things such as 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

Employees working from home either full-time or part-time have the same rights as those working on-site and thus employers also have the same responsibilities to ensure their health and safety. While employees should be provided with adequate equipment such as ergonomic chairs, the main issue that tends to arise with this section of the workforce comes under mental rather than physical health concerns caused by stress and isolation.

lone worker food delivery

Lone Worker Risk Assessment

Conducting a lone worker risk assessment is one of the most important things an employer can do to protect their workers. 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 that much easier and more effective.

Risks can either be very general or extremely specific to your industry, and you’ll need to consider both kinds to complete a useful risk assessment. 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.

There are also many aspects of health and safety law that organisations may not be aware of, and ensuring that you’ve done as much research as possible beforehand will hopefully protect you from legal action in the long run. For example, there are certain work situations that cannot be performed alone, as laid out by the HSE. These include:

  • Work in a confined space
  • Work close to exposed live electricity conductors
  • Diving operations
  • Vehicles carrying explosives
  • Fumigation

Conducting a risk assessment is required by law in the UK and companies that do not complete one (and keep it regularly updated) are at risk of being handed huge fines or worse. You can use our free lone worker risk assessment template to begin yours.

Getting Your Lone Worker Policy Right

Once your lone worker risk assessment has been completed, it’s time to create your lone worker policy. A good lone worker policy will cover everything that has been done and put in place to ensure safety across the business, including who has been appointed to be responsible for adherence to the policy.

This can be one person or several, but they must be deemed competent enough to carry out the job i.e. experienced and knowledgeable.

It is the responsibility of the employer to communicate rules and regulations around health and safety to their workforce and, 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.

For step-by-step instructions for completing your lone worker policy, check out our guide.

Lone Worker Solutions

In addition to a risk assessment and policy, there are several other ways you can ensure your lone workers are kept safe and well. Lone worker alarms, for example, allow users to access help and assistance whenever they need, 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.

But relying on lone worker alarms alone may not be enough without some kind of workforce management software or alarm monitoring in place. 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.

Lone worker protection can be viewed with apprehension by many businesses, but the reality is that, as long as a few simple steps are followed, health and safety professionals can meet the needs of both their organisation and their workers.

How can we help?

To find out more about how Vatix can help your business, or if you are interested in our lone worker services, click here or call us on 020 3820 1857.