In the UK, it is estimated that up to 8 million people are lone workers. That’s more than 20% of the 31.2m working population.
The law requires employers to consider carefully, and then deal with, any health and safety risks for people working alone. Employers are responsible for the health, safety and welfare at work of all their workers. They also have responsibility for the health and safety of any contractors or self-employed people doing work for them. These responsibilities cannot be transferred to any other person, including those people who work alone. Workers have responsibilities to take reasonable care of themselves and other people affected by their work activities and to co-operate with their employers in meeting their legal obligations. Who are lone workers and what jobs do they do? Lone workers are those who work by themselves without close or direct supervision, for example:
In fixed establishments:
A person working alone in a small workshop, petrol station, kiosk or shop
People who work from home other than in low-risk, office-type work (separate guidance covers homeworkers doing low-risk work)
People working alone for long periods, eg in factories, warehouses, leisure centres or fairgrounds
People working on their own outside normal hours, eg cleaners and security, maintenance or repair staff working alone
As mobile workers working away from their fixed base:
Workers involved in construction, maintenance and repair, plant installation and cleaning work
Agricultural and forestry workers
Service workers, including postal staff, social and medical workers, engineers, estate agents, and sales or service representatives visiting domestic and commercial premises
How must employers control the risks?
Employers have a duty to assess risks to lone workers and take steps to avoid or control risks where necessary. This must include:
involving workers when considering potential risks and measures to control them;
taking steps to ensure risks are removed where possible, or putting in control measures, eg carefully selecting work equipment to ensure the worker is able to perform the required tasks in safety;
instruction, training and supervision;
reviewing risk assessments periodically or when there has been a significant change in working practice.
This may include:
being aware that some tasks may be too difficult or dangerous to be carried out by an unaccompanied worker; where a lone worker is working at another employer’s workplace, informing that other employer of the risks and the required control measures; when a risk assessment shows it is not possible for the work to be conducted safely by a lone worker, addressing that risk by making arrangements to provide help or back-up.
Risk assessment should help employers decide on the right level of supervision. There are some high-risk activities where at least one other person may need to be present. Examples include:
Employers should take into account normal work and foreseeable emergencies, eg fire, equipment failure, illness, and accidents. Employers should identify situations where people work alone and consider the following:
Does the workplace present a specific risk to the lone worker, for example, due to temporary access equipment, such as portable ladders or trestles that one person would have difficulty handling?
Is there a safe way in and out for one person, eg for a lone person working out of hours where the workplace could be locked up?
Is there machinery involved in the work that one person cannot operate safely?
Are chemicals or hazardous substances being used that may pose a particular risk to the lone worker?
Does the work involve lifting objects too large for one person?
Is there a risk of violence and/or aggression?
Are there any reasons why the individual might be more vulnerable than others and be particularly at risk if they work alone (for example if they are young, pregnant, disabled or a trainee)?
If the lone worker’s first language is not English, are suitable arrangements in place to ensure clear communications, especially in an emergency?
How will the person be supervised?
The extent of supervision required depends on the risks involved and the ability of the lone worker to identify and handle health and safety issues. The level of supervision needed is a management decision, which should be based on the findings of a risk assessment, ie the higher the risk, the greater the level of supervision required. It should not be left to individuals to decide whether they need assistance.
Where a worker is new to a job, undergoing training, doing a job that presents specific risks, or dealing with new situations, it may be advisable for them to be accompanied when they first take up the post.
Procedures must be put in place to monitor lone workers as effective means of communication are essential. These may include:
supervisors periodically visiting and observing people working alone;
pre-agreed intervals of regular contact between the lone worker and supervisor, using phones, radios or email, bearing in mind the worker’s understanding of English;
manually operated or automatic warning devices which trigger if specific signals are not received periodically from the lone worker, eg staff security systems;
implementing robust system to ensure a lone worker has returned to their base or home once their task is completed.
Employers should have measures in place to ensure that effective communications are put in place. Where possible, this could include supervisor visits to observe staff that are working alone, agreed contact or calls between the lone worker and the supervisor. In situations where the employer is managing large teams of remote or lone workers, visits and calls may not be an efficient way to monitor the whereabouts of individuals. A robust system needs to be implemented to ensure that the lone worker has clocked in and out of their designated location at the expected time.
Ezitracker is a time & attendance system that can assist employers in meeting their duty of care obligations to manage the health, safety and security of lone workers. The system safeguards lone workers by raising an alert to the supervisor if they fail to log out from the system, managing the risk and demonstrating a real commitment to their welfare.
With electronic staff monitoring such as Ezitracker, remote workers can log in and out of client sites using a variety of methods: landline, text, mobile app and biometric units. If a staff member fails to log in, an alert is raised so steps can be taken to get replacement staff on-site quickly. If they fail to log out an alert is raised so supervisors can check their employee is safe or take appropriate action.
Our Group Companies already provide software solutions and related services to more than 70 Government agencies and over 1000 private and third sector Companies globally. In addition to Safeguarding remote workers, Ezitracker enables you to automate key operations and improve workforce productivity. From verifying attendance in real-time and eliminating timesheets, to streamlining payroll reporting, the solution gives you the power to substantially increase customer satisfaction, rapidly gain competitive advantage, and win more business fast.
Download the HSE Guidance for Lone Workers here.