2nd December, 2020
There are no legal restrictions preventing people from working alone, and sometimes it can't be avoided. However, there are additional hazards and risks involved that need to be considered when planning lone work. Let's look at what to consider and how to reduce the risk.
Lone working is a frequent activity for many organisations, particularly with mobile workers. Lone work often involves activities such as maintenance, repairs, site visits and investigations. Even in fixed workplaces, workers may need to work alone. For example in small workshops and offices, or out of hours workers such as cleaners.
The law does not prevent people from working alone. In many circumstances, working on your own can't be avoided. But there is additional risk involved. What if something bad happens? Will anyone know if you are in trouble? How can you get help if you are alone?
And while there are no legal restrictions preventing people from working alone, just like all work, health and safety regulations apply. This means you need to carry out a risk assessment for lone working, and there are additional hazards and risks involved with lone working that need to be considered when planning the work. You need to eliminate or control these risks as far as is reasonably practicable.
Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations, you must manage the risk to lone workers. Think about who will be involved and which hazards could harm those working alone.
So what are these lone working hazards? Surely if the task is the same, then the risk is the same, whether you are alone or not. Well, lone workers may be facing similar hazards to others in your organisation, but the fact they are alone is likely to increase the risks.
Additional hazards associated specifically with lone work include:
These hazards mean additional risk. There is no one around to help in an emergency if you are working alone. If something goes wrong, how will anyone else know? The risk of having an accident might be the same, but the consequences will be much more severe. What if there's no one around to deliver first aid, get help, or contact the emergency services? In serious cases, the delay in treatment could be the difference between life and death.
Because of the possible delay with assistance, high risk or complex activities should never be carried out alone. And even for work that can be carried out alone, control measures to reduce the risk like providing instruction, training, supervision and protective equipment, are needed.
It will always be necessary to reduce the risks before going ahead with lone work. Remember that when working alone, there is no back up on the site and no other member of the team nearby to ask for help.
You might start by just thinking about the activity, but when you're assessing lone work, there are 3 main considerations to assess:
Start by thinking about the workplace. Does it present any additional risks to the lone worker? For example, how will they access the workplace? Can any temporary access equipment required such as ladders be safely handled by one person? Are there any other people that will be present that may present a threat to the lone worker?
Some workplaces may not be suitable for lone work at all. For example, work at height or confined spaces, or work with an unpredictable person who may be a threat.
Next, you can assess the activity. While lone working is fine in the right situations, some tasks are too difficult or dangerous to be carried out by someone on their own. Can the plant and materials involved in the work be safely handled by the lone worker? Is the work safe for someone by themselves?
If the work involves lifting objects that are too heavy for one person, or if more people are needed to use the equipment, lone working is not suitable.
And what about the person who will be working alone? Do they know what they are doing, have they carried out the activity before, under supervision? Have they had suitable training? Are they fit and healthy? Is there anything about the person that might put them at increased risk?
Young or inexperienced workers are likely to present a higher risk. Some employees may have medical conditions that make them unsuitable for lone working.
Only proceed with lone working if it is safe. A lone working risk assessment can be used to assess the work and plan your control measures.
Once you have assessed the work, if you decide that lone working is suitable, then you need to control and reduce the risks. Although lone workers are not under constant supervision, you still need to ensure their safety. With no one around, how will they get help if they need it? How will anyone know if they need help?
Usually, if we need help we can ask for it. We have colleagues nearby, and even if we don't ask for help, other people can see when we are struggling. You might think that someone working alone can do the same thing. We're all connected these days, most of us carry a mobile phone, and someone who is lone working can just make a call if they need help. But what if you can't ask for help because you are unconscious or incapacitated? If you are lone working, and no one can see you, nobody knows you are in danger.
You should consider how the lone worker could get help if an accident occurs. If the person working alone becomes injured or sick, they may be unable to contact someone for help. One of the best ways to reduce this risk is to put in place a procedure to monitor lone workers. You can do this through regular contact and automatic warning devices. But it's important not to rely on the person working alone to ask for help. Instead, your system could include a schedule of required contact points, for example, every hour. If contact or signals are not received from the lone worker, you raise an alarm.
Get your lone work under control with the lone work permit to work, to protect workers from the dangers of working alone.
The purpose of an emergency alarm that you activate by lack of contact, is that the lone worker may not be able to make a call in the event of an emergency. So instead of having to ask for help, the fact that they have not made contact to say that everything is ok triggers the emergency procedure.
You should set the limits to what can and cannot be done while working alone. Ensure workers are:
- competent to deal with the requirements of the job;
- suitably trained in the use of any technical solutions provided;
- able to recognise when to seek advice from elsewhere.
Make sure that lone workers are aware of the controls in place, and what they need to do. Because it's harder for lone workers to get help, they might need extra training, especially as there is little or no supervision. Monitoring can also be carried out periodically, with regular or occasional visits. This can be used to check that the controls in place are being followed and to check if any rules or procedures need updating.
Through an adequate lone working risk assessment to establish the hazards present and controls needed, a lone work permit to control the work, and regular contact, you can minimise the risks associated with lone working.
Don’t forget to make sure that lone workers have access to welfare facilities and a first aid kit for treating minor injuries.
If you need help managing the risks associated with lone working, you can download lone worker documents for your business here.
This article was written by Emma at HASpod. Emma has over 10 years experience in health and safety and BSc (Hons) Construction Management. She is NEBOSH qualified and Tech IOSH.
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