5th July, 2023
When you work alone, you have less help and support, and you can be more vulnerable if things go wrong. If you plan on working alone or have lone workers on your team, follow these 13 tips to stay safe.
Working alone shouldn't mean you are on your own. In fact, if you work alone, you are more vulnerable if things go wrong. That means you need more controls in place to protect you.
In this blog post, we will discuss the things you can do to reduce the risks so that you can carry out your work safely by yourself.
And none of the tips we share here will cost a lot of money or take ages to put in place. Thirteen might seem like a big number, but most of these things you will be doing anyway because they are common sense.
But there are some common mistakes with health and safety when working alone. Like assuming you will be able to call for help, or not realising when you are more vulnerable.
Before we dive deeper, here's a quick summary of the safety tips for working alone:
Don't worry if you don't have all of this in place yet, by the end of this post, you'll know what you need to do, and we will share the links to some templates to help you get started.
Before starting any activity, including working alone, you must assess the risks. After all, risk assessments are a legal requirement.
Think about the risks from:
Make sure you assess the risks of doing the activity by yourself - because when you work alone, there are extra lone working hazards, like:
Your lone working risk assessment should consider communication, access, experience, emergencies, medical conditions and assistance in addition to the task.
Some jobs are too dangerous to do alone - for example, work in a confined space or lifting operations.
Use common sense here. If you need supervision, a banksman or a rescue team, then it's not safe to work alone.
And it's not just the activity you need to consider. For some individuals, it may be unsafe to work alone. For example, medical issues might put lone workers at greater risk. And dealing with emergencies on your own might be too much for a new or vulnerable worker.
When you work alone, it's not easy to get a second opinion. You can't just run something by a co-worker because you don't have one with you!
Even if you can quickly get hold of someone on the phone, they are not there with you and can't see what you are dealing with.
Training is more important for people working alone because there's no on-site supervision, so if you are doing something wrong, there's no one there to tell you. You might only find out when it's too late.
You should be ready to deal with the task when everything goes right - and what to do if things go wrong.
Regular safety briefings or toolbox talks on lone working can help to keep the risks of working alone fresh in your mind.
Once you have decided it's safe to work alone, it's time to work alone safely - and that starts by letting people know you are working alone.
Always let someone know when you are working alone (and where) before you start.
If you don't let someone know where you are, if you need help, they won't be able to find you.
If you are staying in the same place all day, you might phone the office at 9 am to let someone know you'll be working alone until 2 pm.
"Hey Tina, I've arrived at the site - I should get done around 2. I'll give you a call to let you know that I've finished unless I need anything in the meantime."
You've already done some good things here:
But what if something happens before you finish? What if you have an accident at 10.30 am?
And what if you can't call for help? Maybe you had a medical emergency or an accident and are unconscious. Or you fell into some water and broke your phone. Or your valuables got stolen.
It would be over 3 hours before Tina at the office would think something could be wrong. And even then, she might just think the task is taking a little longer. Or maybe Tina went home early that day and assumed that someone else would take your call at 2 pm. But no one else knows to check on you.
A safer system for working alone would involve:
Since you might not be able to call for help, you need regular contact so that help gets triggered if you fail to make contact.
For example, if you need to make contact on the hour, every hour, then Tina at the office would know there's a problem by 11 am and can raise the alarm.
Since working alone is high-risk, and there are a few things to put in place, you can document these arrangements in a permit to work.
Having a written permit is an agreement between the person working alone, and the supervisor who will keep in contact with them.
The permit makes sure that any lone work is only carried out when it has been agreed in advance and has the necessary controls in place.
Your lone working permit can include:
You should have an emergency plan in place for working alone that gets triggered if:
And when you can't get in touch with someone working alone or they have called for help, it's time to put the emergency plan into action.
Emergency arrangements shouldn't just be in place, they should be practised. If you are working alone, or supervising lone workers your training should cover emergencies, and realistic practices will help you stay calm in the event of a real emergency.
Working alone isn't necessarily more dangerous, but it does make you more vulnerable.
You might be less able to prevent an incident, and if incidents do occur, they may be harder to manage on your own.
Stay aware of your surroundings, and if you start to feel unsafe, leave if you can or call for help.
Be aware of:
Try not to carry large amounts of money or valuable equipment if you are working alone. If you do need to use expensive equipment then make sure you stay secure.
For example, don't unload all your materials and equipment at once - only get out what you need. And put things away when you are done with them. The less you have on show, the less likely you will become a target for theft.
Keep your van or storage area locked when you are away from it to reduce the risk of opportunist thefts.
If you are working alone, you probably won't have a first aider close by. So you need to become the first aider, at least for yourself.
Access to a first aid kit, and being able to carry out simple first aid on yourself will help deal with minor injuries or reduce the risk from more serious injuries until help arrives.
If you regularly work alone, you might start to feel lonely, or isolated from the rest of the team.
Your mental health is just as important as your safety.
If working alone starts to take a toll on your mental health, consider ways to stay connected with work colleagues or other workers carrying out a similar role.
Regular team activities can help create a better connection with others at work. If you can't do it in person, technology makes it easy to connect over video, phone and messaging.
You may find support networks within your workplace, in trade associations, or with professional bodies.
If you are unsure what to do, ask for help. If you have all the right training, and experience, and have planned ahead, this shouldn't happen too often.
But unusual circumstances happen at work, no matter how well you plan.
If you don't know what to do, you will need help at some point. It's better to ask for a small amount of help before you start than a large amount of help when things go wrong.
Now you have a plan in place for:
If you have a team, you can get your procedures written up in a lone working policy so that everyone follows the same rules for working alone.
Ready to get your documents in place for working alone? Check out our lone working templates for help getting started.
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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