Lone workers are those employees who work by themselves, completely alone, without direct or close supervision. Any employee who works alone, including but not limited to contractors, self-employed people and of course employee, is considered as a lone worker.
Who exactly can be classed a lone worker?
- workers in fixed establishments where 1 employee works on the premises, e.g. in shops, small workshops, kiosks, petrol stations and home-workers
- employees who work separately from other people, e.g. in factories, some research and training establishments, warehouses, leisure centres or fairgrounds
- people who don’t work during the usual hours, e.g. cleaners, special production, security, maintenance or repair staff, etc.
- employees who work away from their headquarters or base, e.g. on construction, maintenance and cleaning work, plant installation, electrical repairs, painting and decorating, lift repairs, vehicle recovery, etc.
- agricultural and forestry employees
- service workers, for instance rent collectors, social workers, postal staff, home helps, pest control workers, drivers, engineers, district nurses, architects, sales representatives, estate agents and similar professionals visiting private homes and commercial premises.
Nowadays, the technology progress has increased the number of employees who work alone either outdoors or indoors. It makes more necessary to construct a robust framework to guarantee maximum protection for all workers and especially for lone workers, since they are expected to work under unpleasant or heavy conditions at times and in most cases in remote areas.
The term lone worker is certainly familiar if you have worked under risky conditions or perhaps far away from being supervised by managers. Either way, you should perhaps care less if you are not a lone worker but you should focus particularly on a lone worker protection policy if you run a company and employ workers or if you are the manager of lone worker employees.
Being a lone worker within a high-risk environment is the reality for many roles. It is crucial that workspace safety best practices are strictly followed to mitigate the risk for your workers. Lone workers operating in remote areas are actually twice as likely to be injured and hospitalised.
Corporations have a duty of care to protect their personnel, and, beyond that, companies want to provide their workers with the peace-of-mind that they are being supervised or at the very least looked after.
Providing a safe environment for lone workers requires a variety of mechanisms and certain control systems. Communication and systems to guarantee notification of personnel movements is definitely a starting point. Identifying roles that carry an elevated risk and implementing necessary procedures to manage these risks is the very first step in guaranteeing the lone worker protection.
Lone workers are actually found in many roles. The traditional stereotype we all heard about is an employee working in remote countryside, but usually it is an employee outside the office going to a meeting, checking on worksites, visiting private homes and working off-site.
Moving outside the office environment carries risks such as potential aggression from animals, members of the public, hazardous environments, risky equipment and even isolation. Best practice is to have your workers working with at least one other worker or person, but the reality is that this scenario is not always possible or perhaps affordable.
Are workers legally allowed to work alone?
Yes. In fact in most countries there is nothing specific within the legislation that prohibits a worker from working alone. Laws in countries like USA or UK require the worker to undertake a risk assessment, and the outcome of this assessment shall determine whether or not a worker may or may not work alone. Thus, the employer needs to assess if the worker is at considerably higher risk when working by himself/herself. Employers need to be aware of any explicit legislation on lone working, that perhaps be applicable to their business, such as supervision with vehicles carrying explosives, supervision in diving operations, etc.
What are the key questions employers should ask themselves when planning safe working arrangements for a lone worker?
When establishing safe working conditions for a lone worker, employers must keep in mind the requirements of the law and all the standards that may apply to their concrete work activity. They must assess if the legal requirements of this activity can be met by employees working alone. The questions that an employer will need to be ask himself or herself when planning such safe working conditions generally are the following:
- Can the risks of this work be adequately controlled by the lone worker?
- Is the employee medically fit and completely suited to work alone?
- What training is necessary to guarantee competency in safety matters?
- How will the employee be supervised?
For more information about lone workers, refer to the HSE publication titled ‘Working Alone in Safety; controlling the risks of solitary work’.