Lone Working and Safety
Many companies will have employees who work alone and it is important that they know how to manage the safety of these employees. That responsibility also extends to the health and safety of any contractors or self-employed people doing work for them.
Who are lone workers and where might they be found?
Lone workers are those who work by themselves without close or direct supervision.
Situations in which employees might work alone include:
A person working alone in a small workshop, petrol station, kiosk or shop.
People who work from home (unless that work is low-risk, office-type work)
People working alone for long periods, e.g. in factories, warehouses, leisure centres.
People working on their own outside normal hours, e.g. cleaners and security, maintenance or repair staff.
Workers involved in construction, maintenance and repair, plant installation and cleaning work.
Agricultural and forestry workers.
Service workers, including postal staff, engineers, estate agents, and sales or service representatives visiting domestic and commercial premises.
Workers carrying out tasks in confined spaces (a supervisor may need to be available, as well as someone who can carry out a rescue if that proves necessary).
Work carried out on or near exposed live electricity conductors.
Health and social care work, where client behaviour and situations could prove unpredictable and possibly hazardous.
Controlling the risks
Employers, rather than employees, should set the limits to what can and cannot be done while working alone. They should take steps to make sure that their workers can deal with the requirements of the job and have the training and experience to recognise when to call on somebody else for advice.
Employers have a duty to assess risks to lone workers and take steps to avoid or control risks where necessary. This must include:
involving workers when considering potential risks and measures to control them;
taking steps to ensure risks are removed where possible, or putting in place control measures, e.g. carefully selecting work equipment to ensure the worker is able to perform the required tasks in safety;
instruction, training and supervision;
reviewing risk assessments periodically or when there has been a significant change in working practice.
This may include:
being aware that some tasks may be too difficult or dangerous to be carried out by an unaccompanied worker;
where a lone worker is working at another employer’s workplace, informing that other employer of the risks and the required control measures;
when a risk assessment shows it is not possible for the work to be conducted safely by a lone worker, addressing that risk by making arrangements to provide help or back-up.
Remember that if an employer has five or more employees, they must record the significant findings of the risk assessments they make.
Supervision and Monitoring
There are certain laws that prohibit lone working in particular industries or sectors. Examples include supervision in diving operations, vehicles carrying explosives and fumigation work. The risks involved in the job and the ability of the lone worker to deal with health and safety issues will determine how much supervision is required.
The decision on whether assistance and supervision are made available should be taken by management after a suitable and sufficient risk assessment has been made.
Where a worker is new to a job, undergoing training, doing a job that presents specific risks, or dealing with new situations, it is a good idea for them to be accompanied when they first take up the post.
It is essential that monitoring procedures are set up for lone workers. Such procedures may include:
periodic visits by supervisors to observe lone workers;
regular contact at pre-agreed intervals, using whatever method is best suited to the worker’s circumstances (e.g. phones, radios or email);
warning devices which will be triggered if a specific signal is not received from the lone worker at regular intervals;
a system to verify that the lone worker has returned to their home or base once their task has been completed.
Questions to be asked
When an employer is drawing up a risk assessment or setting up safe working practices, they should take account of normal work and foreseeable emergencies. In order to ensure that everything reasonably practicable has been considered, the following questions should be asked:
are there specific risks for the lone worker because of features of the workplace that would be difficult for one person to handle?
Does the lone worker have a safe entry and exit from the premises?
Does the work involve machinery that will be dangerous if operated by one person?
Are chemicals or other hazardous substances used in the job, or stored on the premises, that may prove dangerous for a lone worker?
Will the lone worker be required to lift objects that are realistically too heavy or large for one person?
Will the lone worker face the risk of violence and/or aggression?
Does an individual personal factor, such as youth, disability, trainee status or pregnancy, increase the risk of working alone?
If the lone worker is not fluent in English, has this been taken into account when establishing emergency communication arrangements?
If the employee has a medical condition that might give rise to an emergency, employers should seek medical advice and amend their working practices if necessary. Consideration should be given to both the routine work itself and any foreseeable circumstances that might exacerbate the burden on the employee.
Accidents and emergencies
Emergency procedures should be established, with employees receiving training for them. Lone workers should be informed about these procedures and if the risk assessment indicates that lone workers should carry first aid kits or require first aid training, it should be supplied.
Lone workers need to be sufficiently experienced and fully understand the risks and precautions involved in their work and the location that they work in. In situations where there is limited supervision available, training that takes into account the uncertainty of the situation is particularly important. Whilst it may not be possible to anticipate every possible outcome to a situation, a well-structured training programme will give the employee an edge that may well save them from harm.
There is a British Standard relating to lone working; BS8484 and it has just been updated to take into account new developments in the field of lone worker safety and protection.