A lone worker is anyone who works alone without direct or close supervision.
Millions of jobs in the UK require workers to do just that, with the NHS alone employing approximately 400,000 lone workers across its services. This number is also steadily rising with the growing popularity of homeworking and delivery services. Indeed, the pandemic meant that delivery service Deliveroo boosted the number of its UK delivery workers to 50,000.
Lone workers can also be found among security staff, cleaners, maintenance workers and those who are employed in agriculture, to name just a few.
But working alone carries some unique risks, which employers must be aware of and try to mitigate. Whether someone works alone or in company, an employer’s health & safety responsibilities remain the same.
The risks of working alone
When working without others, there are some workplace risks that can increase. These include:
Workplace violence can be particularly associated with those who have to work late at night or in the early morning, or those who need to carry expensive equipment or money. The nature of some jobs, such as security, can also lead to potentially violent situations.
Stress or worsening mental wellbeing
Having to work alone can lead to increased stress for some workers. Working alone can lead to feelings of isolation, something that became very apparent during the pandemic when more workers were forced to work alone from home. Indeed, a report carried out by Lloyds Register revealed that 17% of the 5,500 workers they interviewed were left feeling isolated by their new remote working position. Being away from colleagues can also exacerbate existing mental health issues and make accessing support even more difficult.
Risks associated with isolated or rural workplaces
Isolated or rural workplaces can make getting help difficult if there is an incident. Mobile phone signal can be patchy or non-existent, and help can take a long time to arrive. Rural and agricultural work is also dangerous: provisional statistics from the HSE for 2020/21 revealed that the agriculture, forestry and fishing sector had 34 worker fatalities over the year, the second highest total.
When the rate of fatal workplace injuries is considered (the number of fatalities per 100,000 workers in that industry), the rate was also 20 times higher for agriculture, forestry and fishing than the average across all other sectors.
Assessing the risk
Employers don’t have to carry out a separate risk assessment for their lone workers, but they will need to factor in these additional risks.
When conducting your risk assessment, think carefully about who your lone workers are likely to come into contact with and the type of work they are carrying out.
You also need to think about the environment they will be working in. Will they be operating equipment alone? Do they need to lift heavy objects? Is the workplace isolated, or does it require them to enter someone’s home or premises?
Make sure you consider the availability of different forms of communication too.
Managing the risks of lone working
It is likely that your lone workers will require additional training to ensure they stay safe in their roles. This ensures that they can do their jobs competently and that they know how to handle unexpected situations. QMS eLearning provides a module specifically for lone workers to help with this.
It may also be useful to train your lone workers in first aid, including how to administer it to themselves.
Maintaining contact with your lone workers is vital for ensuring their safety and wellbeing.
Put processes in place so that you can fix pre-arranged times for contact, whether this is done over the phone, via email or other methods. You should also create processes that ensure your workers have returned home or back to your organisation’s premises after completing their work. To do this, the NHS is now using an app which the worker can use to check in and out of different workplaces. Buddy systems can also be helpful for this.
Finally, make sure all lone workers have access to emergency numbers and know how and when they should contact their employer.
Sending your lone workers out with the right equipment is key. In addition to the tools they need to do their jobs, you may also like to think about equipping them with first aid equipment, mobile phones, devices for raising an alarm, and torches.
Sat-navs may also be a useful piece of kit for a lone worker. Parking permits, so that the worker can park nearby, may also be helpful.
To keep all of your workers safe, happy and healthy, you may like to go one step further and integrate health & safety into every aspect of your business with ISO 45001, the international Standard for occupational health & safety.
With ISO 45001 you can reduce the risk of work-related illness and injuries by building a robust system of processes that raise awareness of health & safety and encourage continuous improvement. You can find out more about the Standard on our dedicated webpage.