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.
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 the work.
Health and safety regulations apply to lone work, which means carrying out a risk assessment. You need to identify and assess the risks involved, then eliminate or control them as far as is reasonably practicable.
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? Control measures to reduce the risk like providing instruction, training, supervision and protective equipment, are needed.
It will be necessary to reduce the risks before going ahead with lone work. Remember that when working alone, there is no back up on site and no other member of the team nearby to ask for help.
There are 3 considerations to assess, the workplace, the activity, and the person.
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? Young or inexperienced workers are likely to present a higher risk. Some employees may have medical conditions that make them unsuitable for lone working.
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. But what if you can't ask for help because you are unconscious or incapacitated? You should consider how the lone worker could get help if an accident occurs. If your lone worker 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. 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 need to make sure that lone workers are aware of the controls in place, and what they need to do. 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 provide lone workers with adequate 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.