Lone workers – keeping them safe

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) defines lone workers as those who work by themselves without close or direct supervision.

Employers must ensure that lone workers are at no more risk than other workers. Therefore, potential hazards that relate specifically to lone workers must be assessed by employers and appropriate action taken to reduce the risks. Here are some steps that employers must take to prevent harm to employees who are lone workers.

Employers’ Duties

There is no general legal prohibition on lone working but the broad duties of health and safety legislation apply.

In dealing with lone working, employers must:

  • understand their legal responsibilities as an employer
  • ensure a risk assessment is carried out and strategies implemented to provide a safe working environment for lone workers
  • ensure that lone workers have the relevant resources, training and information to work safely on their own
  • have procedures to deal with a lone worker having an accident.

Certain activities prohibit lone working and are governed by regulation that sets out specific requirements for supervision, assistance or accompanied working. Legislation generally applies to:

  • specific types of hazardous work
  • particular categories of workers, such as young or inexperienced workers.

Regulated activities include:

  • hazardous electrical work
  • some manual handling activities
  • erection of scaffolding
  • use of unsupported temporary access equipment
  • demolition on construction sites
  • diving operations
  • young people doing hazardous woodworking
  • work with certain chemicals
  • work in confined spaces
  • work at height
  • certain permit to work operations

The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER) and the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 (LOLER) may apply to some activities where lone working, or lone working by certain categories of workers, may be hazardous and is therefore prohibited

Risk Assessment

A full risk assessment of lone working should be completed and kept under review. Managers should do the following:

  1. Identify the hazards of the job or specific activity, the lone working tasks to be undertaken and where and when the lone working occurs.
  2. Decide who might be harmed and how, including people who may work alone for part of the day, vulnerable groups and people other than employees who may be at risk if a lone worker is unable to carry out their tasks.
  3. Evaluate the risks and decide whether existing control measures are adequate or whether further action is needed.
  4. Record the findings, devise suitable control actions and implement the measures.
  5. Monitor the situation and review the assessment on a regular basis in order to check whether there are changes to the activity or persons involved. Update assessment if necessary.

The risk assessment must be suitable and sufficient, meaning it must look at the lone working situation and anticipate all reasonably foreseeable factors. It is also important to ensure the person carrying out the lone working risk assessment is competent to do so and to consult them as part of the risk assessment

Examples of typical lone working hazards.

Hazard Risk to lone worker
Unassisted manual handling Musculoskeletal injury
Handling cash or valuables, including valuable portable work equipment Increased risks of being targeted by violent people because of working alone, possibly resulting in physical or mental injury, stress-related ill health, potentially even death
Driving long distances without adequate rest breaks or change of driver Increased risks of road traffic accidents and falling asleep at the wheel
Poor working relationships/poor organisational culture Increased risks of lone workers being bullied or harassed in the absence of witnesses, possibly resulting in stress-related illness or assault


Examples of different types of Lone Worker

Type of work Typical type of lone worker
One person in a fixed establishment Small workshop staff, petrol station staff, kiosk attendants, shop workers, gatehouse security officer and homeworkers
One person working separately from others in a fixed establishment Factory workers, warehouse staff, research and training workers, leisure centre and fairground staff
One person working outside normal hours in a fixed establishment Cleaners, security staff, special production staff, maintenance and repair staff
One mobile worker working away from a fixed base Construction workers, plant installation workers, maintenance and cleaning workers, lift repair staff, painting and decorating staff, vehicle recovery workers, agricultural and forestry workers, rent collectors, postal staff, social workers, home helps, district nurses, pest control workers, drivers, engineers, architects, estate agents, sales representatives, professional staff and journalists


Individual Factors

Each individual is different and specific risk factors should be assessed in consultation with individual lone workers and health advisors, as appropriate.

If the assessment shows that the employee’s individual circumstances, health, condition, disability or capabilities mean they would be at increased risk when working alone, then, lone working is not suitable for that person.

If the risks can be effectively controlled, steps should be taken to adjust the work task or working conditions to allow the employee to continue working.

Employers must:

  • avoid blanket restrictions on where, when and whether the disabled employee can work
  • take practical steps to control the risks or make reasonable adjustments through staffing levels, work activities, equipment, communications systems or locations
  • handle health records and medical reports in strict confidence in accordance with statutory requirements and data protection law.

Employees with sensory disabilities may need to be advised not to work alone unless the risks of difficulties arising from an emergency can be avoided or controlled. A personal safety plan or special communications provisions may help to ensure they can use a means of escape safely and promptly, but it will be important to ensure that other people can assist them if necessary.

Vulnerable Groups

Certain groups of workers likely to be at particular risk are classed as vulnerable.

Women are particularly vulnerable to risks of violence, harassment and assault, especially when working alone outside normal working hours.

For new and expectant mothers, employers are required to carry out both a generic risk assessment for hazards to reproductive health and a specific risk assessment for the individual expectant, new or nursing mother. This will need to include an assessment of any lone working and will need to be reviewed throughout the pregnancy.

Consideration will need to be given to:

  • any manual handling, working at height or use of temporary access equipment and whether this work can still be carried out unaided
  • stressors associated with the work and lone working
  • whether help can be summoned if needed
  • whether the woman is more susceptible to accidents and ill health or more vulnerable in the event of a fire, injury, medical emergency or other unforeseen event.

Young and inexperienced workers are generally more at risk because of their inexperience, which can mean that they lack knowledge of safe systems of work. Young workers may also be more vulnerable to acts of violence.

Employers are required to assess the legal provisions and risks to inexperienced or young workers and to ensure they are provided with appropriate levels of supervision, training and support.

Non-employees may be at increased risk from employees working alone and this should be taken into account during the risk assessment. Some circumstances where lone working could affect others include home carers and when driving.

Lone Worker Devices, Apps and Systems

A range of devices and software systems are available for managing lone workers and reducing risks. Examples include GPS tracking devices that allow the whereabouts of staff to be monitored, mobile phone apps and emergency alert devices that can be used in summoning help. However, most devices may have only limited applicability in the education sector.

At the very least, staff functioning as lone workers, eg performing community visits, should have a fully charged mobile phone with them which will allow them to “call-in” when they finish their business and call for help if they need it. Staff closing buildings after hours or attending call-outs at weekends should also carry a phone and, where appropriate, an emergency alert device.

Device and system providers include the following.

LONEALERT — includes systems where the triggering of a device carried by a member of staff raises an alert in a monitored call centre, or where the system will automatically send an alarm if the member of staff does not respond at a pre-arranged time

Guardian24 — lone worker systems which can be used via Android, iPhone and Windows mobile smartphones or specialist lone worker devices to log visits and raise an alarm at the touch of a button

StaySafe — a smartphone app and cloud-based monitoring service which provides personal protection for lone workers.

Whichever system is selected, staff must be trained to appreciate the importance of the technology provided to keep them safe. The technology should be assessed and reviewed regularly for effectiveness and suitability. Reviews should also check that all staff are adhering to the correct policies and processes.

If you have lone workers and haven’t conducted a lone worker review of your business, now may be the time to do it.  Need help?  C&C can provide advice and support.  Contact us on 01525 309807 to speak to an Advisor.