Back to all articles

Do you know your duties with respect to your lone workers?

The Forum's adviser on health and safety, Martin Mulholland provides some useful advice on issues employers should consider in relation to their lone workers. 

There are many scenarios in which your workers may find themselves working alone. Lone working can be more, or less, hazardous depending on the type of work being undertaken and its location.

You may think that lone worker hazards are purely safety-related but there are health issues as well. As part of World Health Day this week we want to consider both the safety and health risks that lone working can present.

Lone workers are defined as those who work by themselves without close or direct supervision, for example:

  • Those in fixed establishments (e.g. offices, retail environments, etc.)
  • As mobile workers working away from a fixed base (e.g. installation operatives, service sector workers, etc.)

Lone working is not illegal but the law does require companies to ensure that those employees working alone are at all times at no greater risk than other employees. This means that employers have to gather information regarding the types of work that are undertaken by staff.

Employers should be confident about the procedures they have in place. Working in an office may not usually be a lone worker situation but the person who is first in and last out may be at greater risk and an assessment of that risk should be undertaken.

Depending on your industry, and your specific operations, there can be many different hazards posed to the lone worker. A comprehensive Risk Assessment should be undertaken and can include (but will certainly not be limited to) a consideration of such topics as:

  • Personal Safety (e.g. violence, aggression, confrontation (humans, animals).
  • Person specifics (e.g. gender, age, race, disability, medical issues, language barriers).
  • Competency (e.g. training, skills, experience.
  • Requirements for manual handling.

There may be specific issues regarding the location of the lone working. Again your Risk Assessment should consider (amongst others) site-specific issues such as:

  • The location of the site (e.g. remote, rural, urban, etc.).
  • Site features (e.g. geology, hydrology, areas at height, areas below ground, etc.).
  • The likely presence of hazardous substances that can have detrimental health effects (e.g. asbestos, chemicals, ground contamination, etc.).
  • The likely presence of sharp materials (e.g. glass, discarded needles, etc.).
  • Access, parking, site security arrangements, etc.
  • Availability of suitable welfare facilities.

In order to reduce the level of risk that has been identified then a Risk Control System (RCS) should be developed. There will be many ways to control the risks and the first of these should be employee awareness. The results of the Risk Assessment should always be discussed with employees who can also make observations and have an input into the process.

Considerations can include:

  • What methods of communication you can use to stay in touch with the lone worker, such as:
    - Verbal, in person
    - Telephone
    - Text
  • Is access to emergency support known (e.g. fire, hospital, etc.)?
  • Have instructions and procedures been developed?
  • Have site-specific Risk Assessment and Method Statement (RAMS) been developed?
  • Is there a requirement for a process of Dynamic Risk Assessment?
  • Are your arrangements for both employee and management training suitable?
  • Do you have effective monitoring procedures in place?

Increasingly technology is allowing companies to monitor employees who are working away from a fixed base to improve their safety. This can include the use of smartphone applications that can track employee locations in real-time to allow a check-in process after their period of working. Coupled with an online hub these applications can send alerts to managers to inform them of any potential issues.

As part of World Health Day think about being more proactive. It can improve the efficiency of your business and promote the safety and health of your employees.
About the author
Martin Mulholland is a consulting Partner at MD Safety Management who prepare the Forum's Health and Safety Guide and also provide Health and Safety services to small to medium-sized businesses across a wide range of industry sectors.

Join the conversation