What is ‘lone working’?
Lone workers are those who work by themselves without close or direct supervision.
- people in fixed establishments where only one person works on the premises, e.g. in small workshops, kiosks, shops and home workers
- people who work separately from others in factories, warehouses, research and training establishments, leisure centres or fairgrounds
- people who work outside normal hours as cleaners, security, special production, night shift workers, maintenance and repair staff
- people who work away from their home base on construction sites, in plant installation, maintenance, cleaning work, electrical repairs, lift work, painting and decorating or vehicle recovery
- agricultural and forestry workers
- service workers who collect rents, postal workers, home helps, community nursing staff, pest control workers, drivers, engineers, estate agents, sales representatives and similar professionals visiting domestic and commercial premises.
Legal duties and responsibilities around lone working
There is no legal requirement indicating that lone working must not happen.
However, a great deal depends upon the Risk Assessment which should be undertaken as part of broad duties under The Health and Safety at Work Act (1974) and The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (1999).
These regulations require identifying the hazards found at work, assessing the risks arising from these hazards, and then putting measures in place to control the risks.
Assessing and controlling the risks of lone working
A Risk Assessment should indicate any significant risk, and detail how the risks should be adequately controlled for lone working to continue.
Risk assessment often identifies the correct level of supervision or backup required. Some risk assessments, such as those for working in confined spaces, state that communication and rescue arrangements need to be in place where at least one other person needs to be present.
Control measures may include training, instruction, communications, supervision and personal protective equipment.
If a Risk Assessment shows it is unsafe to work alone, then arrangements should be in place for providing help or backup.
If the worker is at another employer’s workplace, the occupier should inform the lone worker’s employer of the risks and of control measures needed.
For organisations with five or more employees, the Risk Assessment of significant findings must be recorded.
Safe arrangements for lone workers
Safe working arrangements for lone workers are no different to organising the safety of other employees:
- it must be identified if the lone worker can adequately control the risks of the job
- precautions must be in place for both normal work and for emergencies such as fire, equipment failure or sudden illness.
- does the lone worker have a safe way in and out of the workplace?
- can one person handle temporary access equipment, plant, goods or substances?
- is there a risk of violence?
- are women especially at risk?
- do young people work alone?
Lone workers in many situations also face greater risks from violence and aggression.
Medical suitability of lone workers
Check that lone workers have no medical condition that would make them unsuitable for working alone, seeking medical advice if necessary.
Training for lone workers
Training is particularly important where there is limited supervision:
- lone workers need to be sufficiently experienced to fully understand the risks and precautions required
- employers should set limits of what may and may not be done whilst working alone
- lone workers should be competent to deal with unusual or new circumstances beyond their training, and know when to stop and seek advice.
Supervision of lone workers
The extent of supervision depends on the risk and the ability of the lone worker to identify and handle health and safety issues.
Employees new to a job may need to be accompanied until competencies are achieved. Supervisors may periodically visit to observe the work being done.
- there should be regular contact by radio, telephone or mobile phone
- automatic warnings should be activated if specific signals are not received at base
- other warnings that raise the alarm in the event of an emergency should be devised
- check that the lone worker has returned to base, or home, on completion of the work.
Emergencies and lone working
- lone workers should be capable of responding correctly to an emergency
- emergency procedures should be in place with the worker trained to respond
- lone workers should have access to a First Aid Kit or facilities
- risk assessment may indicate that the lone worker needs First Aid training
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