Lone workers are listed as those workers who either work unsupervised or have no direct supervision. There are an estimated 8 million workers that are classified as lone workers, representing nearly a quarter of the UK workforce.
Lone worker roles are many and varied and include traffic wardens, taxi drivers, lorry drivers, bus drivers, petrol station attendants and estate agents.
Other lone worker situations include those:
Some of the risks factors to consider when assessing lone worker risk include:
To ensure minimal risk to lone workers, some key points should be considered before assigning an employee to work on their own.
The employer needs to carefully evaluate the job being assigned to the employee. An employer should consider whether a single person can safely do the job being assigned.
The employer must also consider how the degree of risk can be minimised. For example, moving a three-seater couch might be hazardous for a single worker but assigning two or more people decreases the risk of an accident or an injury.
The employer must also make sure that the employee has received the relevant training for the task they are being asked to do.
As an employer, it is vital to consider the individual themselves, before assigning any job to them. Some employees may be medically unfit for performing a specific task, or their medical condition might put them at a higher risk while doing their job.
The individual’s age and skill set should be considered. A list of people with specific considerations would include:
Newly recruited employees.
Employees with disabilities.
Lone workers may suffer from more mental health problems such as stress, loneliness, depression etc. than group workers. This suffering may go unnoticed if there is no one there to recognise the signs.
A minor problem going unnoticed, may later become a severe issue. It is essential for an employer to have some form of regular contact and an observation system for their employees mental well being.
An employer must factor in the risk of such issues during assigning jobs. They must also decide what indicators they are going to use to make sure any signs are spotted early.
Does the task or work process involve operating dangerous machinery? If the use of dangerous machinery cannot be avoided then it may be necessary to have someone supervise whilst hazardous machinery is in use. This supervision may be possible remotely - such as a video link, mobile ‘phone communication, walky talky etc.
The employer must again make sure that the worker is qualified and suitably trained to safely set up and use any machinery needed to carry out the job.
Violence during a work assignment is a hazard with a much higher risk for lone workers. Careful consideration should be taken as to how to reduce this specific risk to many lone workers.
Our online lone workers awareness course and certificate covers this in more detail.This article is mainly concerned with identifying the risks of lone working - rather than what can be done to reduce the risk.
Before allowing a worker to work alone and without supervision, it is essential to consider whether appropriate supervision is needed or not. The amount of supervision or monitoring required for any specific job depends on many factors, such as:
The risks involved in the job.
The amount of training an employee has received.
Workers experience level.
The best way to avoid risks is to remove the hazard. So, avoid lone working if at all possible. Where lone working is the only viable option then it is important to have contingency plans in case of an emergency.
Accidents can happen anywhere and anytime, so an employer must consider how they will respond to an accident or emergency.
Keeping in mind, all of the 7 points mentioned, then a risk assessment checklist for lone working can be drawn up. The below risk assessment checklist is a reminder of what should be considered while assessing risks to lone workers:
Where will the task be carried out? The risk assessment may and probably will vary from premises to premises, site to site and different locations. Felling a tree will have different risks deep in a forest to removing a tree from an urban area. Every work premises possess different risks to the worker.
The nature of the task must be considered. Can the job be completed by a single or multiple workers? Does the task require specialised training? Can the task be carried out in a less hazardous way? Would altering the dates and time of the task make it less risky?
The condition of the worker is an essential factor in any risk assessment but especially with lone working. Appropriate training, the capability to do the task, prevailing medical conditions and special consideration regarding disabilities are all points that should be taken into account during the risk assessment.
In case of an accident or incident there must be procedures in place. For example, who will be alerted if an accident occurs and how will the employer know whether the work area is safe?
It is a legal requirement to protect a worker from harm “so far as is reasonably practical”. Whether the risk is of injury or violence, the employer must consider and put in place procedures that minimise such risks.
The employer must be aware of any history of mental health difficulties and also be on the lookout for signs of developing mental health difficulties such as depression, stress, anxiety etc.
The amount of supervision should be decided before the commencement of the task. The employer must take into account all factors to carefully develop a supervision strategy. The supervision may be remote or direct, but some form of supervision will be required.
Effective communication between the employee and the employer is a must. The employer must make sure that the employee is comfortable working alone, is adequately equipped to perform the task and the employee understands all the health and safety procedures associated with the task. The employee must have a clearly defined route to express any concerns they have about their health and safety.
If all things are considered on the check list from A) to H) then this would satisfy the HSE that an employer had made the best efforts to consider the risks of lone working So Far As Is Reasonably Practicable. However, one word of caution, the HSE considers that certain work must never be carried out by a lone worker, see below.
The HSE classifies particular high-risk work that should never be carried out by lone workers, such as working:
For more information on the law surrounding lone workers, read our article.