Lone Working: Keeping your Employees Safe

lone working

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Lone working is commonplace in the UK across a range of industry sectors. Where such arrangements are in place, employers are under specific legal obligations to safeguard the health and wellbeing of their lone-working staff.

 

What is lone working?

Lone working, as defined by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), refers to any working arrangement in which the employee is working without close or direct supervision, typically without another colleague present. When lone working, this does not necessarily mean that the worker is physically alone, but that they are in a separate location away from others.

Examples of lone working can include delivery drivers, health workers, engineers, security and cleaning staff, warehouse workers or those working in petrol stations. It can also cover anyone doing their job role from home, either on a full-time or hybrid basis.

 

Common risks for lone workers

People who work alone face the same hazards in their daily work as all other workers, but for lone workers the potential for harm is often greater. This is because there will always be higher risks for anyone working without supervision, or without someone there to help them, or to call for assistance, if they suffer an accident or other emergency situation.

Equally, lone working does not always mean a greater risk of violence for an individual at work, but it does make these workers more vulnerable. This is because they are often perceived by perpetrators as an easy target, where there is no-one there to help, and the lack of nearby support makes it harder for a lone worker to prevent an incident.

Much will also depend on the job role, although many lone workers who drive or ride for work, such as delivery drivers, will be exposed to work-related road risks.

Additionally, for all lone workers, but often for those working from home with little outside contact, lone working can lead to feelings of social isolation, disconnection and abandonment. This can cause all kinds of issues, including a lack of productivity, reduced engagement, increased absenteeism and even the loss of a valuable member of staff who feels forced to resign through work-related stress or poor mental health and wellbeing.

 

Employer obligations to lone workers

There is no legal prohibition against someone working alone. However, general health and safety legislation must be complied with by employers when it comes to working environments or situations that may put the health and wellbeing of the individual working alone at risk.

Under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, employers are under a statutory duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all their employees. They are also under a duty to run their business in such a way as to ensure, again so far as is reasonably practicable, that anyone who is not employed by them but may be affected by their business activities, are not exposed to risks to their health or safety.

Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, a separate duty arises to assess all risks to health and safety, including the risk of lone working.

To discharge their statutory duties, employers must therefore manage any health and safety risks before people can work alone, where this applies to anyone contracted to work for them, including self-employed people. As the potential for harm is often greater for people who work alone, than for those who work under supervision or with someone else present if things go wrong, it is essential that the risks of lone working are taken into account when risk assessments are carried out by employers. Ideally, not least where lone working applies to a significant part of the employer’s workforce, a separate policy should be put in place.

 

Assessing the risks of lone working

When risk assessing lone working, there are various factors that may be taken into account by the employer, although much will depend on the nature of the business and the job role in question. The employer will need to carefully think about who will be involved in any given set of circumstances and which hazards could harm those who will be working alone. They should think about both routine work, as well as any possible emergencies that may arise to put additional physical and mental burdens on the lone worker.

For delivery drivers, the road-related risks to which they will be exposed on a daily basis must be factored into the risk assessment, while for health workers who may be visiting the homes of service-users, or for security staff who will be dealing directly with members of the public and often exposed to conflict, the risk of violence may be paramount.

In contrast, for anyone working from home, while there will be no road-related risks or risk of violence, there are still health and safety risks that must be factored in. In some cases, these issues may give rise to a risk of physical harm, such as injuries caused from an unsuitable work station. In others, these issues could give rise to work-related stress and poor mental health problems, especially where the employee is unable to concentrate due to disruptions at home, or if they end up feeling disconnected, isolated or unsupported.

In some cases, the workplace itself may give risk to certain risks, such as if this is in a rural or isolated area, or there could be issues about a person’s medical suitability to work alone.

 

How to manage lone working risks

When undertaking a risk assessment for lone working, this is not only about identifying any potential risks to which those working unsupervised or without anyone else present may be exposed. It is also about identifying ways in which these risks can be adequately controlled.

Below we set out a number of steps that employers can take to help minimise the risks to the health and safety of lone workers, although this list is not exhaustive, and may also need to be tailored to the lone working role and the lone worker in question:

  • The employer should provide training to lone workers to help them better identify any hazards and control any risks to which they may be exposed while working alone, where this can enable them to cope better in both routine and unexpected situations.
  • The employer should make sure workers are competent and experienced to deal with the requirements of the job without supervision to control and guide them, and are also able to recognise when they should get advice or help, if needed.
  • The employer should provide supervision in any higher risk situations that have been identified within the workplace risk assessment, setting limits within that risk assessment as to what can be done by someone while working alone.
  • of supervision needed based on the risks involved, and although regard can be had to an individual’s ability to identify and handle health and safety issues, the risks may need to be re-assessed for other lone workers.
  • Any new lone workers should be supervised at first if they are being trained, doing a job with specific risks or dealing with new situations.
  • If an employee is at someone else’s workplace, the employer must ask the other employer about any risks and control measures to make sure they are protected if working alone.
  • The employer should monitor their lone workers and regularly keep in touch with them while at work, where the employer must ensure that the employee understands any monitoring systems, and the procedures or devices used by the employer.
  • The employer should put emergency procedures in place and make sure lone workers know how to use them, such as having access to adequate first aid equipment and knowing how to use it on themselves, and how and when to raise the alarm.
  • The employer should regularly test their monitoring systems and emergency procedures to ensure that lone workers can be contacted if a problem or emergency is identified.
  • The employer should make sure home workers are supported and protected, where the employer has the same health and safety responsibilities for them, and the same liability for accident or injury, as for any other workers.
  • The employer should put measures in place for any lone worker who has experienced violence, encouraging workers to play their part by identifying and reporting incidents.
  • The employer should provide training in personal safety or violence prevention to help lone workers recognise situations where they feel at risk, and how to use conflict resolution techniques or when to leave the workplace, where appropriate.
  • The employer should put procedures in place to monitor lone workers so that managers can recognise signs of stress or poor mental health as early as possible, where lone workers may quickly feel disconnected, isolated or abandoned if contact is poor.
  • The employer should regularly monitor the health of certain lone workers who have specific risks to their health, for example, lone HGV drivers have high physical and mental demands placed on them, with long periods behind the wheel.
  • If employers are unsure whether someone’s health condition means they are safe to work alone, they should obtain medical advice before authorising lone working.

 

Best practice for employers

There is no right or wrong approach when it comes to safeguarding the health and wellbeing of lone workers although, as a matter of best practice, employers should have a lone working policy in place setting out what is expected of staff and what they can expect from their employer when working unsupervised. This should include the potential risks to which a lone worker will be exposed at work and the measures used to control these risks.

In addition to a standalone ‘lone working’ policy, employers may also need to individually assess lone working situations and tailor their control measures to suit each situation. For example, for those working from home, where the circumstances and environment can be different for every employee, the employer may need to look carefully at each scenario. One way of doing this could be by way of questionnaire, documenting the answers that employees provide to help make informed decisions around any potential risks, to be followed up by a discussion with each employee on what measures may help them.

A home working questionnaire could ask the employee to provide details designed to ascertain the viability of working from home and the environment that the employee will be working in. In this way, this can help the employer to identify any risks and make provision for things like an ergonomic work chair or other equipment, where needed. The employer may also want to put a home working agreement in place around things like keeping in touch, taking breaks, and how an employee’s performance will be monitored and measured. By establishing clear boundaries, this can often help to pre-empt any issues, not least the risk of stress and anxiety when working in isolation away from the workplace.

In other scenarios, such as where a lone worker may be exposed to a risk of violence or work-related road risks, the provision of specific training can significantly help to educate and inform employees on what steps to take to protect their own health and wellbeing, as well as how to raise the alarm in the event of an accident or other emergency.

When it comes to best practice, it is therefore all about what risks have been identified and what measures can be put in place for that particular scenario although, in all cases, by following the simple steps outlined by the HSE on its website page for ‘Lone working’, employers can help to protect those working alone. This provides that having completed a full risk assessment and made sure the job can be done safely by one person, employers must: “train, supervise and monitor lone workers, keep in touch and respond to any incident.”

 

Need assistance?

For expert advice on meeting your obligations in relation to lone working, contact us.

 

Lone working FAQs

What is meant by lone working?

Lone working refers to any arrangement in which the employee is working without close or direct supervision, and typically without another work colleague present, such as delivery drivers, health workers, engineers, security staff, cleaners or anyone working from home.

Is it illegal to lone work?

In broad terms, it is not illegal to lone work, although general health and safety legislation must be complied with by employers when it comes to working in situations that may put someone’s health and safety at risk.

Is it lone working or working alone?

Lone working refers to work carried out by people who work by themselves without close or direct supervision. This does not necessarily mean that the worker is physically alone, but that they are in a separate location away from others.

What is the procedure for lone working?

There is no set procedure for lone working although, as a matter of best practice, employers should have a lone working policy setting out what is expected of staff and what they can expect from their employer when working unsupervised.

Last updated: 16 January 2024

Author

Founder and Managing Director Anne Morris is a fully qualified solicitor and trusted adviser to large corporates through to SMEs, providing strategic immigration and global mobility advice to support employers with UK operations to meet their workforce needs through corporate immigration.

She is a recognised by Legal 500 and Chambers as a legal expert and delivers Board-level advice on business migration and compliance risk management as well as overseeing the firm’s development of new client propositions and delivery of cost and time efficient processing of applications.

Anne is an active public speaker, immigration commentator, and immigration policy contributor and regularly hosts training sessions for employers and HR professionals

About DavidsonMorris

As employer solutions lawyers, DavidsonMorris offers a complete and cost-effective capability to meet employers’ needs across UK immigration and employment law, HR and global mobility.

Led by Anne Morris, one of the UK’s preeminent immigration lawyers, and with rankings in The Legal 500 and Chambers & Partners, we’re a multi-disciplinary team helping organisations to meet their people objectives, while reducing legal risk and nurturing workforce relations.

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