With what is increasingly becoming a trend, many people who would previously not have been considered as a lone worker are now falling into that definition. This can include working from home, working in remote locations, and working outside of normal working hours.

This month we are looking at lone working and some of the questions/issues we are being asked about.

What does the law say about lone working?

In the UK, while not covered by a specific piece of legislation, there are several Acts and statutory instruments that capture lone working, these include:

  • The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974: The primary piece of health and safety legislation in the UK, Section 2 requires employers to look after the health, safety, and welfare of their employees while they are at work (including when they are working alone);
  • The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999: These regulations require employers to conduct a risk assessment of the work activities, including lone working, and to take appropriate measures to manage the risks identified;
  • The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992: Places duties on employers to provide a safe working environment for their employees (including those who work alone); and
  • The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998: Requiring employers to provide their employees with safe and suitable equipment, including personal protective equipment (PPE) where necessary, to carry out their work safely.

Additional considerations in other regulations that may see specific requirements for lone workers, to others in the organisation, could include, The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH) 2002, where arrangements or controls need to be adjusted to reflect possible changed circumstances and risk.

Case law involving lone working includes:

  • In 2017, Brent Council was fined £100,000 and ordered to pay costs of £10,918.88 after social workers were assaulted by the mother of a vulnerable child they were visiting.
  • Also in 2017, South West Water was fined £1.8 million following the death of lone worker, who drowned in a filtration tank.
  • The trustees of a Borders country estate were fined £3,000 after the death of a 53-year-old gamekeeper whose quad bike overturned on a slope. However, his absence was not detected until 52 hours later, at which point a search was initiated.

Who could be considered as lone workers?

Lone working can cover a multitude of workstyles and circumstances over and above the traditional:

  • Working from home: Increasingly with hybrid working, employees working from home could be on their own;
  • Working in remote locations: This can include working in areas such as offshore oil rigs, remote construction sites, or wilderness areas.
  • Working in retail settings: Where the employee could be working alone for extended periods of time;
  • Working outside normal working hours: Night or early morning shifts and weekend work, where there may be very few people around;
  • Working in community settings: For example, social and care workers, community nurse/health visitors; and
  • Driving or travelling alone: Long distance driving for work, travelling to remote locations, visiting customers, etc.

For some organisations the blend of lone working employees may not be too different to that pre pandemic. For others, with changes in staffing levels, occupation and working practices, a whole new cohort may fall into the definition.

Workplaces seeing very low levels of occupation on some working days and weekends, may also have to contemplate lone worker requirements, even though it may only be a temporary situation.

How should lone working be managed?

  • Conduct a risk assessment: Conduct a risk assessment to identify the hazards and risks associated with lone working. This should cover for example, assessment of the physical environment, the nature of the work, and the risks to the worker’s health and safety.
  • Check on health: As well as physical health, mental health is a key ingredient to your lone worker management, as with less direct personal contact, if not regularly checked, issues can go un-noticed.
  • Provide suitable equipment and PPE: Make sure that your lone workers have access to suitable equipment and PPE where necessary.
  • Provide appropriate training: Make sure that your lone workers are trained on the specific risks associated with their work and how to manage them. This includes training on the safe use of equipment, personal protective equipment (PPE), and emergency procedures.
  • Keep in regular communication: Set up a system for regular contact between the lone worker and a designated other person. This can be done through ‘check-ins’, mobile phones or radios.
  • Monitor and review: Regularly monitor and review the effectiveness of your lone working policies and procedures to make sure that they are still effective and relevant.
  • Develop an emergency response plan: Develop an emergency response plan in case of an incident. This should include clear instructions on what the lone worker should do in the event of an incident and how to summon help (see also safeguarding below).

What are the issues with lone working and safeguarding?

The nature of lone workers in certain circumstances, can put employees at greater risk of abuse, violence, and neglect, so safeguarding must form part of your management. Aspects to consider could include:

  • Reduced visibility and support: Lone workers may not have the same level of contact, visibility, and support as those who work in teams. This is especially true for workers in remote or isolated areas, or who work outside normal working hours;
  • Lack of supervision and monitoring: Reduced levels of supervision and monitoring, often down to reduced contact, can make it more difficult to identify and address potential safeguarding concerns;
  • Increased risk of violence and aggression: Especially if they work in high-risk areas such as healthcare or social care;
  • Delayed or reduced response to safeguarding concerns: In situations where lone workers are the first to identify safeguarding concerns, the lack of support and visibility may make it more difficult to report and respond to those concerns in a timely manner; and
  • Increased risk of false allegations: Lone workers may be more vulnerable to false allegations of abuse or neglect, as there may be fewer witnesses to confirm or refute the allegations.

While hopefully not common occurrences any possible safeguarding issues should be addressed as part of the risk assessment process and controls, as appropriate, information and training put in place and provided, respectively.

Further information

The HSE guidance includes ‘Lone working: Protect those working alone’, with content covering:

  1. Overview;
  2. Manage the risks of working alone;
  3. Violence;
  4. Stress and other health factors; and
  5. Training, supervision, and monitoring.

Lone workers: how employers should protect them - Overview - HSE
‘Lone workers – your health and safety’ provides information on employer and employee responsibilities.

Lone workers – your health and safety responsibilities (hse.gov.uk)
‘Protecting lone workers How to manage the risks of working alone’ (INDG73) is another HSE publication aimed at “anyone who employs lone workers, or engages them as contractors etc, including self-employed people or those who work alone.” The guidance explains the management principles and procedures for how to keep lone workers healthy and safe.

Protecting lone workers (hse.gov.uk)
How to manage the risks of working alone.

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