Safety at Work: How to Protect Lone Workers

The image is illustrative of types of activities undertaken by lone workers

More people are working from home than ever before and many workplaces are operating with a skeletal staff due to the impact of COVID-19. Safe working procedures for lone workers have never been more important. As an employer, do you know what your responsibilities are under the law for protecting lone workers?

Have you implemented effective policies and procedures to maintain the highest levels of safety at work? Employers have a legal duty to protect the health and wellbeing of the people working for them. That means understanding the risks of lone working and how to mitigate them.

What does the Law Say on Lone Working?

Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, employers have a duty of care to ensure the health and safety of lone workers as far as is reasonably practicable. Lone workers must be given just as much consideration as on-site workers when it comes to maintaining health and wellbeing. The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require employers to assess and manage the risks of lone working, just as they would conduct risk assessments and implement safety procedures in the workplace.

What Counts as Lone Working?

According to guidelines provided by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), a lone worker is “someone who works by themselves without close or direct supervision”. There are lone workers in all industries and for the purposes of health and safety law, the definition includes:

  • Workers who are left alone on-site, for example, a 24-hour petrol station attendant.
  • Those who work separately to colleagues on-site or outside normal “office hours”.
  • Home workers.
  • Workers who are required to leave the workplace to fulfil the duties of their role, for example, railway maintenance technicians who must travel to different locations, carers who visit clients in their homes, delivery drivers and surveyors who need to visit construction sites.
  • Volunteers who work independently.

Employers are legally responsible for protecting the health and safety of anyone contracted to work for them, including self-employed people.

Potential Risks of  Working Alone

The risks for lone workers will always be higher than for those who work in an environment that provides ongoing supervision, support and access to emergency help. Employers are required to assess the risks their lone workers are exposed to in the course of fulfilling their duties and put systems in place to mitigate these risks. Establishing a safe working environment for lone workers is different from managing health and safety in the workplace.

Employers must manage any health and safety risks before allowing people to work alone.

Potential risks for lone workers include:

  • A greater vulnerability to violence in the workplace. The HSE defines violence as “any incident in which a person is abused, threatened or assaulted in circumstances relating to their work”. This includes verbal abuse. Without ready access to help and support, lone workers are less able to prevent or fend off an “attack”, than their onsite counterparts.
  • Stress and mental health or wellbeing issues. Working in isolation can increase the risk of mental health issues such as stress and anxiety. People working onsite together have the daily support of colleagues to talk to and managers to appeal to for help and guidance. Without effective systems of communication in place, lone workers are more susceptible to work-related stress and associated mental health conditions. The HSE’s Stress Management Standards provide guidance for employers on how to protect workers from work-related stress.
  • Poor management or exacerbation of an exciting medical condition. If an employee has an ongoing medical condition, employers should take this into account when deciding if working alone is suitable. Lone workers may not have the same access to supervision, help and support as onsite workers — there is no-one to notice if the lone worker falls ill and no-one on hand in the event of an emergency. Furthermore, the potential for increased workplace stress could negatively impact an employee with an existing medical condition, if not well managed.
  • Different or heightened risks due to the location of work. Workers who are required to travel to different locations to fulfil their role will be exposed to a wide range of risks not evident in the primary workplace. For example, those who are required to work in confined spaces or near high-voltage electricity.

Managing the Risks for Lone Workers

Any business that has people working alone must include consideration for lone workers in their health and safety policy, or create a separate “Lone Worker Safety Policy”. When assessing risk, employers should consider all the factors they would in a workplace assessment — for example, fire safety, manual handling, illness and slips, trips and falls — with special consideration for any areas of heightened risk (as highlighted above). The policy must be reviewed and updated regularly and if anything changes.

Adequate training, supervision and monitoring must be in place to ensure the health and safety of lone workers.

Training should cover the added risks of lone working and the company’s policy for managing these. People working alone must understand how, when and where to get support — not all tasks will be suited to lone working and employees must recognise when to ask for advice and guidance.

Your lone working risk assessment should be used to determine the level of supervision necessary for different tasks and employees. New team members will need higher levels of supervision than experienced employees and high risk tasks will require greater supervision than low risk tasks.

Employers have a responsibility to set up an effective monitoring system to keep in touch with lone workers. This might include setting up a schedule for supervisors to observe lone workers in their environment and implementing a means of checking that workers have returned home or to the main premises after completing a period of working alone.

If your workforce includes people for whom English is a second language, you must take extra care to ensure that any health and safety guidance provided has been received and understood.

Howlett Health and Safety Services can help you to assess the risk for lone workers and to implement strategies that promote safety at work. We also provide face-to-face and online training on a variety of topics. Contact us today for a free quote and 15-minute consultation.

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