Are people (lone workers) legally allowed to work alone?
Yes. There is nothing specific in general legislation that prohibits a person from working alone, however section 19 of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 requires that the employer undertakes a risk assessment. This shall determine whether or not an employee may work alone based on the dangers of doing so. Therefore, in general, an employer must assess whether an employee is at significantly higher risk when working alone.
There may also be other specific legislation on lone working, that employers must also be aware of. e.g. supervision in diving operations, vehicles carrying explosives etc.
As an employer, you must manage any health and safety risks before people can work alone. This applies to anyone contracted to work for you, and also includes self-employed people.
A lone worker is any person who works by themselves, without close or direct supervision, for example:
- as delivery drivers, health workers or engineers
- as security staff or cleaners
- in warehouses or petrol stations
- at home
There will always be greater risks for lone workers without direct supervision or anyone around to help them if things go wrong. Many of them are exposed to work-related hazards and road risks.
Managing the risks of working alone
Where to start, think about who will be involved and which hazards could harm them. Then you must:
- train, supervise and monitor lone workers
- keep in touch with them and respond to any incident
When a lone worker will be at someone else’s workplace you must ask that employer about any risks and control measures to make sure they are protected.
Risks to consider
Risks that particularly affect lone workers include:
- violence in the workplace
- stress and mental health or wellbeing
- a person’s medical suitability to work alone
- the workplace itself, for example if it’s in a rural or isolated area
We are based in rural Cheshire and provide a lot of training to the Agricultural industry, many of our courses for farm workers involve Lone Working. Emergency First Aid courses have also included extra advise for administering minor first aid to yourself and suggestions on first aid kits additions for lone workers to carry.
Certain high-risk work requires at least one other person. These works include but are not limited to:
- a confined space, where a supervisor may need to be there, along with someone in a rescue role
- near exposed live electricity conductors
- in diving operations
- in vehicles carrying explosives
- with fumigation
Working from home
With many people now working from home, and talk in the news of many employees not fully returning to the office. Employers are now having to think about their responsibilities for Health and Safety of homeworkers. As they have the same liability for accident or injury as for any other workers, meaning you must provide supervision, education and training, as well as implementing enough control measures to protect the homeworker.
Lone working does not always mean a higher risk of violence, but it does make workers more vulnerable. The lack of nearby support makes it harder for them to prevent an incident.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) defines violence as ‘any incident in which a person is abused, threatened or assaulted in circumstances relating to their work’ – this includes verbal threats.
Some of the key workplace violence risks include:
- late evening or early morning work, when fewer workers are around
- lone workers, such as security staff, who have authority over customers and are enforcing rules
- people affected by alcohol or drugs
- carrying money or valuable equipment
There was a very sad case reported in the news only a few weeks ago, about a lone worker for the Canal and River Trust who was fatally assaulted. Thankfully these cases are rare but no less sad and why the utmost care and planning must be taken to minimise any danger.
Workers can play their part by identifying and reporting incidents. Training in personal safety or violence prevention will also help workers:
- recognise situations where they feel at risk
- use conflict resolution techniques or leave the workplace
Stress, mental health and wellbeing
Lone working can cause work-related stress and affect people’s mental health. Without the support from other workers and being away from managers and colleagues could make it difficult to get proper support.
Keep in touch
Put procedures in place that enable direct contact with the lone worker, so their manager can recognise signs of stress as early as possible. If contact is poor, workers may feel disconnected, isolated or abandoned. This can affect their performance and potentially their stress levels and mental health.
Working alone with a medical condition
If you are unsure whether someone’s health condition means they are safe to work alone, get medical advice. Think about both routine work and possible emergencies that may put additional physical and mental burdens on the lone worker.
First aid and emergencies
Put emergency procedures in place and train lone workers in how to use them. Your risk assessment may indicate lone workers should:
- carry first aid equipment
- receive first aid training, including how to use first aid on themselves
- have access to adequate first aid facilities
Emergency procedures should include guidance on how and when lone workers should contact their employer, including details of any emergency contact numbers. We work with a company called SO Coach Training to deliver all our first aid and mental health first aid training, click here to find out more about our First Aid courses.
Training, supervision and monitoring
It’s harder for lone workers to get help, so they may need extra training. They should understand any risks in their work and how to control them.
Training is particularly important:
- where there is limited supervision to control, guide and help in uncertain situations
- in enabling people to cope with unexpected situations, such as those involving violence
You should set limits on what can be done while working alone. Make sure workers are:
- competent to deal with the requirements of the job
- trained in using any technical solutions
- able to recognise when they should get advice
Base your levels of supervision on your risk assessment – the higher the risk, the more supervision they will need. This will also depend on their ability to identify and handle health and safety issues.
The amount of supervision depends on:
- the risks involved
- their ability to identify and handle health and safety issues
It’s a good idea for a new worker to be supervised at first if they’re:
- being trained
- doing a job with specific risks
- dealing with new situations
Monitoring and keeping in touch
You must monitor your lone workers and keep in touch with them. Make sure they understand any monitoring system and procedures you use. These may include:
- when supervisors should visit and observe lone workers
- knowing where lone workers are, with pre-agreed intervals of regular contact, using phones, radios, email etc
- other devices for raising the alarm, operated manually or automatically
- a reliable system to ensure a lone worker has returned to their base once they have completed their task
Regularly test these systems and all emergency procedures to ensure lone workers can be contacted if a problem or emergency is identified.
What employees must do
Like any worker, employees must take care of their own health and safety and that of others around them who may be harmed by their actions at work. Employees must cooperate with employers and other workers to help everyone meet their duties under the law.
How we can help
We often think of ourselves as constantly being in touch with the people around us, having mobile phones and the latest technology that we can contact people at the touch of a button. But these conversations need to be meaningful, so when we speak to colleague a quick check to make sure they are okay is sometimes all that’s needed.
Technology is also great until its not… how many times have we been there trying to get a signal, struggling to connect to WIFI or when something breaks. So a backup plan is essential especially for lone workers, taking into consideration the location of a person as well as the task in hand is important to ensuring that if there is a problem, help can be arranged fast.
Speaking of help, at Kentra we like to assist our clients with helping to arrange your training needs. We have customers from all walks of life, self employed lone workers to multi national blue chip companies and its a pleasure to talk to you all. If you would like more information about the courses we offer, click HERE for a link to our brochure or please get in touch and let us help you though.
The Kentra Training Team
01606 832 556.