Employers are responsible for the health, safety and welfare of all their employees. They also have a responsibility for any contractors brought into their workplace.
Lone workers have a responsibility to conduct their undertaking in a safe manner and co-operate with their employers.
What is a lone worker?
Lone workers are those who work by themselves without close or direct supervision. The following list provides examples of lone workers:
- a person working alone in a petrol station, kiosk or shop
- people working alone in factories, warehouses, quarries and fairgrounds
- people working alone outside normal working hours such as cleaners, security and maintenance staff
- workers involved in construction, maintenance and repair
- agricultural and forestry workers
- service workers such as postal staff, social and medical workers, estate agents and sales or service representatives visiting domestic and commercial premises
Is it legal for persons to work alone?
Yes, but employers have to conduct a risk assessment and introduce suitable and sufficient controls to protect the health and safety of lone workers.
Are there some jobs where lone working is not advisable?
Yes, lone working cannot be justified because the controls necessary are not adequate to protect fully the health and safety of lone workers. The following provides examples:
- working in confined spaces such as tanks and pits where rescue may be necessary in an emergency
- working at height where harnesses and lanyards are worn
- working under a permit to work regime where controls require more than one person to control risk
- working in health and social care dealing with unpredictable client behaviour
- working at or near live electricity conductors
What must employers do?
Employers must carry out a risk assessment and introduce controls to protect the health and safety of their lone workers. If they have five or more employees this risk assessment must be in writing. This should include the following:
- consulting the lone worker(s) about their task(s)
- taking steps to ensure risks are removed, or put in place controls such as selecting appropriate equipment; the use of motion sensors for emergency personnel, pagers and mobile phones
- instruction and training
- reviewing risk assessments from time to time
Employers also need to be aware of specific law that prohibits lone working such as;
- supervision in diving operations
- vehicles carrying explosives
- fumigation work
If a person has a medical condition can they work alone?
Yes, but an employer should seek medical advice and speak to their lone worker about how a condition is managed and controlled. Consider both routine work and foreseeable emergencies that may impose additional physical and mental burdens on an individual.
Why is training important for lone workers?
Training is important as:
- lone workers need to be fully aware and understand the issues and potential hazards of working alone
- training is important where there is limited supervision to control, guide and help in uncertain situations
- training is important to cope with unexpected circumstances and potential exposure to violence and aggression
- lone workers do not have immediate access to more experienced colleagues
Monitoring by the employer
Procedures should be put in place to monitor lone workers as effective communication is essential. These may include:
- employer’s periodically visiting and observing people working alone
- pre-arranged intervals of regular contact using phone, pager, radio or e-mail
- automatic electronic warning devices which activate if specific signals are not received by the employer
- having robust systems to ensure lone workers have returned to base or home
More information on lone working is available from the following websites and resources:
- Lone working - the basics for employers - source HSE (GB)
- Risk Assessment: a brief guide to controlling risks in the workplace INDG 163 - source HSE (GB)
- Homeworkers: Guidance for employers on health and safety INDG 226 - source HSE (GB)
- Violence at work: a guide for employers leaflet INDG 69 - source HSE (GB)
- Managing work-related violence in licensed and retail premises INDG 423 - source HSE (GB)
- Working with substances hazardous to health: a brief guide to COSHH INDG 136 - source HSE (GB)
- Working at height - source HSE (GB)
- Health and Safety at Work (Northern Ireland) Order 1978 - legislation.gov.uk
- Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2000 - legislation.gov.uk
Please note that these links are to the original legislation, visitors should verify for themselves whether legislation is in force or whether it has been amended or repealed by subsequent legislation.