11th July, 2023
When you work alone, by yourself, it's called lone working. And often it's safe to work alone. In this blog post, we will discover what counts as lone working, look at some examples, and see what the law says about it.
You have probably heard of lone working, and even if you haven't, you might have done lone working before. Lone working is working alone. If you're confident and experienced in your work, you might feel happy and safe working on your own. You might even prefer it!
But there are extra risks involved with working alone that you need to be aware of. There are some cases where lone working might not be possible. And it might not even be legal.
In this post, we will take a look at what exactly lone working is, and when it is (and isn't) legal to work on your own.
Lone working is work carried out on your own. In health and safety terms, this isn't just the work you have done by yourself. It's the work you do alone.
I'm writing this article by myself. But I am in an office with other people. I'm not alone. I'm not lone working. Because other team members are in the same room as me. We might not be working together, but we are together.
Even if you have your own office, you won't be lone working if other people work in the same building as you and you often share meeting rooms and have other shared facilities.
Lone workers are those who work by themselves without close or direct supervision
Examples of lone work are often found in mobile workers. People that work away from the site or offices of their business. Like estate agents, maintenance and repair workers, cleaners, social, and care workers.
This type of work involves visiting other premises or locations to carry out work. Usually alone.
You could also be lone working from your business address. For example, if you are the only person working in a shop or workshop, you are lone working.
If you carry out some work out of hours, when everyone else has gone home, you are lone working.
Lone working is very common.
Here are some common examples of lone work when carried out by a single member of staff, by themselves.
You don't have to be an employee to be a lone worker.
Many self-employed people carry out lone work when they are the only person in their business. For example, plumbers, carpenters, decorators and people working alone in their own workshops or premises.
As we can see, there are many cases when people work alone.
You have probably met people that work alone, and you may work alone yourself. Either all of the time or some of the time.
But when is it ok to work on your own? Are there times when lone working isn't ok?
Before allowing people to work alone in your business, you need to know when it is safe for lone working. Let's take a look at the legal requirements.
No law says you cannot work alone. Lone working is not forbidden. But that doesn't mean that lone working is ok all of the time. Sometimes, it may not be safe, or legal, to do so.
But most of the time, lone working is ok. As long as you make sure it is safe to work alone.
In all cases, employers have legal responsibilities to their workers. They must ensure that they have assessed the risks and that those risks are controlled.
And these same responsibilities and laws apply to lone workers too.
You should consider:
Not sure where to start? The lone working risk assessment template covers the common hazards and controls needed for lone work activities.
Training is especially important for lone workers. They need to be able to assess a situation and decide how to proceed. Lone workers can't ask for help or guidance from supervisors or other colleagues quickly, because they are not with them.
Training can be for both the specific activity, and the more general risk associated with working alone.
Download the lone working toolbox talk to let your team know about the risks when working alone.
If you work alone, you need to know when to stop and get help, when to proceed, and what to do if things go wrong.
And just because supervision might not be constant or direct, it can still be provided. This could be periodic visits or remote observation. It might be a mixture of scheduled checks and random spot checks.
The level of supervision needed for lone workers will often depend on the risks involved.
The level of supervision needed is a management decision, which should be based on the findings of a risk assessment, ie the higher the risk, the greater the level of supervision required. It should not be left to individuals to decide whether they need assistance.
If someone is working alone, how will they get help if they need it? What if they have an accident? This might sound simple because most people carry a mobile phone these days, can't they just call for help if they need it? But what if they are unable to make a call? Perhaps they are unconscious, or under threat?
While there is no specific law that prevents people from working alone, people working alone should not be at greater risk than other employees.
Lone working is usually only suitable for lower-risk tasks, where the risks can be controlled by one person.
After all, people working alone won't have direct access to:
There may be things about the task or environment that means lone working is not suitable.
For example, if equipment and materials would require two or more people to handle safely. If the machinery involved needs more than one person to operate it.
If a task can't be safely carried out by one person alone, then lone working would break health and safety laws.
There may also be things about the person that makes it unsafe for them to work alone. A medical condition might mean they are at greater risk, or they may be a new worker who needs additional training before they can work unsupervised.
In this case, it's not the task that makes lone working unsafe, but the person who was planning to work alone.
While we have said that lone working is legal - and it is - in some cases, the law may prevent lone working.
For example, working in a confined space requires supervision and rescue procedures to be in place. It's not possible to meet those legal requirements with only one person.
Or lifting operations that require supervision and a signaller.
So although lone working is legal in many cases, and very common, you should only let people work alone when it is safe to do so, and when the hazards and risks have been properly assessed and controlled.
If you need people to work alone for your business, set up a lone working policy to document your procedures. You can use the lone working risk assessment and lone work permit to work to help you control the risks.
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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