A comprehensive guide for employers, managers and self-employed lone workers
If you have lone workers in your business or are thinking of moving towards lone working practices, this guide aims to provide you with the practical advice required to better protect your employees.
Our free, in depth guide will teach you everything you need to know. From identifying lone workers in your organisation to the risks they face in different environments. The guide will also help you understand your legal responsibilities, no matter where you are located in the world.
This guide is for anyone looking to understand and improve the safety of lone workers, whether you are responsible for lone workers, or perhaps are a lone worker yourself.
Click on one of the below headings to fast track to that section.
What is a lone worker?
Take a look at some of the official definitions and help you identify ‘hidden lone workers’ in your organisations.
What are the hazards and risks of lone working?
Explore some of the common hazards and risks faced by lone workers in different environments and job roles.
How many lone workers are attacked every day?
We gather together several studies and statistics to find out how many lone workers face violence and aggression each day and which industries face the greatest risk.
Is working alone legal?
Find out whether lone working is legal for all employees and what your basic legal responsibilities for lone working staff are.
Lone worker legislation around the world
Discover the different laws around the world that regulate lone working and what you are required to put in place in order to meet your legal duty of care.
Working alone regulations
Take a look at some of the regulatory bodies around the world offering legal guidance on your responsibilities towards your lone workers.
Who can work alone?
We answer the question of who can work alone by looking at groups of potentially vulnerable or high-risk employees.
What is a lone worker and what does it mean
A lone worker is anyone working without the direct and immediate support of supervisors or colleagues. To put it simply, if an employee cannot be seen or heard by a colleague, they are lone working, whether that be for all or part of their working day.
Official lone worker definitions
Official government organisations each offer their own definition of lone working. Definitions tend to remain very similar, but phrasing can differ – from lone working in Europe to work alone in the USA and Canada or isolated and remote working in Australia and New Zealand;
“Lone workers are those who work by themselves without close or direct supervision.”
Australian Government lone worker definition:
“Lone workers are considered those who work by themselves and/or work in the community with only limited support arrangements, which therefore exposes them to risk by being isolated from the usual backup support. This is the case whether they regularly work alone or are only occasionally alone and do not have access to immediate support from managers or other colleagues.”
“Working alone is when work is done in a location where the employee can’t physically see or talk to other staff.”
“A person is “alone” at work when they are on their own; when they cannot be seen or heard by another person.”
What constitutes lone working?
Lone working can constitute a wide range of job roles across any industry. Traditionally, the phrase ‘lone worker’ would likely conjure images of an employee working in complete isolation, such as a security guard manning a building at night, or an engineer carrying out maintenance on a remote structure. While this may be true for many, lone working doesn’t always mean completely alone.
When identifying lone workers in your organisation, it is important to consider situations which may be overlooked such as;
- Those working on the same site but out of sight and sound of a colleague
- Colleagues working alone in different parts of a building
- Employees left alone for periods of time while a colleague takes a break
- A single employee working late after everyone else has left the worksite
- Anyone working alone but alongside members of the public or in populated locations
- Staff travelling alone during work hours
What type of jobs involve lone working?
There are many different jobs that involve lone working. Lone workers can be found across every industry and job role and anywhere in the world. Some roles commonly utilising lone worker practices include:
- Utilities: remote engineers, meter readers, field service staff, maintenance and repair staff
- Housing: estate agents, surveyors, housing officers
- Local authorities: housing agents, social workers
- NHS and healthcare: health visitors, paramedics, nurses
- Charities and not-for-profits: outreach and community workers
- Retail and hospitality: shopworkers, keyholders, cleaners, security guards, sales representatives
- Construction: laborers, builders, repairmen
How many people work alone?
It is currently estimated that 8 million people work alone in the UK. However, with 46% of the UK workforce considering themselves to be lone workers, as many as 15 million people could be working alone at some point during their current roles.
Around the rest of the world, International Data Corporation estimates approximately 1.3 billion people are mobile workers, many of which work alone for all or some of their working day.
What are the hazards of lone working?
The most common hazards faced by lone workers vary according to industry and job role. However, the top causes of workplace accidents, incidents and fatalities are consistent around the world.
Perhaps the question to ask is, what hazards might lone workers be exposed to?
- Violence and aggression from clients or members of the public
- Spills, cables and other tripping hazards
- Working at height such as ladders, scaffolding and roofing
- Operating machinery and equipment
- Working with electricity, chemicals and other harmful substances
- Heavy lifting, repetitive movements and vibration
- Working around vehicles
- Driving for work
The biggest risk factors in workplaces
It emerges that the biggest risk factor across all workplaces is ‘dealing with difficult customers, patients and pupils’ (65%), which the HSE itself has highlighted as a potential risk in terms of threats and violence towards employees.
Physical risks – including lifting/moving (59%), chemical/biological substances (52%), repetitive movements and slips (50%) and trips and falls (49%) – make up the majority of the other risks listed.
What are the risks of lone working?
The risks associated with lone working include people risk, environmental risks, ill health and isolation. When working alone, the risk should not be higher than that of any other employee. Lone working policies and procedures should be put in place to mitigate any risks from hazards present in the workplace. The first step is understanding how risks of lone working differ from other employees;
Unfortunately, lone workers are at higher risk of violence and aggression and are often regarded as easier targets. This could be down to the nature of their work such as working with vulnerable members of the public and behind closed doors (social, housing and outreach workers for example) or working with large amounts of money (retail, bar, hospitality and security staff).
Lone workers could be at risk to common workplace hazards such as slips, trips and falls, moving vehicles and electrocution. This risk could be increased when working on non-regular worksites that have not been risk-assessed by the business. Working alone also poses a challenge in regard to receiving immediate assistance and medical support if an accident does occur.
Similarly, if a lone worker suffers from a medical emergency such as a heart attack or fainting, receiving immediate support and alerting emergency services could prove difficult without nearby colleagues, particularly if working remotely or out of sight and sound.
Working alone may also have an impact on employee wellbeing as remote workers miss out on a number of factors that benefit our mental health such as colleague interaction, physical support and office provisions. Lone workers operating on isolated sites can easily go the whole day without interacting with anyone and may struggle to feel a part of the company community.
Risks of lone working in different environments
Risks of lone working behind closed doors
Many lone workers visit clients in their homes placing them at higher risk of violence, aggression and hostage situations, particularly if working with vulnerable individuals. Entering a client’s home comes with an element of the unknown. There could be aggressive animals present in the home, trip hazards, aggression and hostility from individuals within the property and potential alcohol and substance abuse.
Risks of lone working in the community
Lone workers operating within the community often work with vulnerable individuals who could also pose a risk of violence and aggression. This may be particularly true for those working in environments where drugs, alcohol and mental health could be involved.
Risks of lone working alongside the public
Working alone in public areas could leave individuals open to theft and violence. Lone workers manning a shop are often seen as easy targets for robberies, while frustrated shoppers often act aggressively towards staff.
Risks of lone working on a work/construction site
While you may have several employees present on a work site, the size and noise levels present on the site could mean that some or all employees present could be considered lone working. As there are many hazards present on a worksite, such as fall hazards, machinery and working at height, failure to get the attention of a colleague could result in life changing or even fatal injuries.
Additional risks to field-based workers include;
- Working at height
- Working with utilities including electricity and gas
- Working with specialist or large equipment
- Working next to busy roads
- Driving to and from site
- Unsocial hours
Read our guide to lone working in the field
Risks of working alone at night
Working alone at night can come with an increased risk of robberies and assault. Those lone working in a shop or working alone in an office may face the danger of armed robberies and theft from criminals targeting properties when they are quieter and less populated.
How many lone workers are attacked every day?
The British Crime Survey recently found that as many as 150 lone workers are physically or verbally attacked every day in the UK alone. Unfortunately, lone workers are more vulnerable to violence and aggression due to the nature of their work or being seen as easier targets.
Violence towards lone workers can result in stress, anxiety, fear and depression, leading to sick leave, loss of confidence and low productivity. Organisations that fail to protect lone workers dealing with aggression and violence as part of their job, are likely to experience low staff retention and ultimately loss of productivity and business.
Lone worker attacks in numbers – how high risk is lone working?
Findings from the Crime Survey for England and Wales revealed that there were estimated to have been 642,000 incidents of violence at work in 2016/17, including 26,000 assaults. In fact, 24% of all violent incidents that took place happened on work premises. The HSE states that this equated to an estimated 1.3% of working adults being the victims of one or more violent incidents at work.
A survey conducted for Suzy Lamplugh Trust found that 81% of lone workers are concerned about violence and aggression. Of those surveyed, one in ten had been punched, kicked or suffered another form of violent attack.
Industry Risks for Lone Workers in Different Fields
Risks of lone working violence in the NHS and healthcare
In the UK, the number of attacks on NHS staff between 2016 and 2017, had risen by up to 10% from the previous year, with a new shocking total of 56,500 reported assaults.
Medical staff most at risk include nurses, paramedics and mental health staff, yet everyone across the NHS is at risk particularly as staff shortages create high stress environments and increase the number of lone working employees.
Working alone and during later shifts exposes lone emergency service workers to accidents on the road when travelling. They are also targeted by members of the public behaving unpredictably and violently, especially if they are intoxicated or under the influence of drugs. With a growing number of patients and lack of additional staff, there is a growing risk to staff who are often faced with anger and hostility when performing their duties to aid members of the public.
Aggression and violence in retail
A recent survey into personal safety and the retail sector by Suzy Lamplugh Trust, found that 66% of respondents had experienced violence or aggression in the workplace. While the majority of cases cited experiencing verbal abuse (83%), many also experienced harassments, bullying, physical abuse, stalking and sexual violence.
Official figures from The British Retail Consortium (BRC) and The Usdaw Union for shopworkers, revealed that violence and abuse against shopworkers in the UK have reached their peak in a decade – with 250 shopworkers being assaulted every day. The rate of incidents of violence with injury has also doubled in 2018, to six per 1000 members of staff.
Shopworkers reported a particular threat when asking for ID before selling age-restricted products but also experienced aggression due to anger towards the establishment or even personal attacks due to gender, race and sexuality.
Lone workers in retail also come under threat from armed robberies, anti-social behaviour from those under the influence in establishments serving alcohol and frustrated customers in betting shops.
Attacks on housing staff
A recent survey by Inside Housing (UK) revealed a rise in the number of reported assaults against frontline staff in recent years. 65% of respondents had experienced verbal assault during the last year, with some stating that this was a regular or even daily occurrence.
Other experiences included racial abuse, being spat on, having furniture thrown at them and receiving death threats as well as being physically attacked or held hostage. The number of reported assaults is so high that in the UK, an assault occurs every 35 working minutes.
The reasons behind assaults within the property industry are wide-ranging and complex. However, many jobs involve delivering bad news and working with clients facing a range of issues. Many occur away from the public, and behind closed-doors. Frustration and stress are often taken out on the employees delivering the news, either by the client or their friends and family.
Is working alone legal?
Working alone is completely legal and is usually safe to do so. However, all employers hold a legal responsibility to protect their lone workers and ensure that they are safe when carrying out work activities.
What is my responsibility when it comes to lone workers? – Duty of Care
Individuals responsible for employees in an organisation, are required to proactively identify, assess, control and monitor work tasks and the workplace environment. Risks should be identified and all reasonable steps taken to eliminate risk. Where risk cannot be entirely eliminated, the risk must be minimised as far as is reasonably practical.
While there are few pieces of legislation that focus specifically on lone working rules, the duty of care remains the same as with other employees. Under most lone working regulations around the world, the employer’s responsibility includes;
- Conducting thorough lone worker risk assessments
- Producing a written health and safety policy and ensuring all employees understand it
- Taking steps to reduce or eliminate risk in order to create a safe working environment
- Providing information, instruction, lone worker training and supervision where appropriate
- Regularly reviewing and improving upon lone worker risk assessments and policies
Failure to comply with health and safety legislation is likely to lead to;
- Large fines reaching as high as millions
- Additional costs associated with compensation, resources and legal costs
- Lost reputation and ultimately, business
- Stop work orders
- Imprisonment of the individuals found responsible
What must the employer of a lone worker do?
Carry out a lone worker risk assessment
Risk assessments for lone working are a basic legal requirement and should be carried out for all employees. When carrying out a risk assessment for lone working staff, you must consider hazards related to the work being carried out, the people they come into contact with and the different environments they travel through and work in.
Find out more in our extra guide on risk assessments for lone workers.
Produce a lone worker policy
Following on from your risk assessment, you will need to produce a safety policy for your lone workers. A lone working safety policy is a guide that will set out your companies’ rules on working alone and help your employees to understand the risks of their role. It should also provide them with practical advice and instruction on how to safely work alone.
Find out more in our extra guide on working alone policy and procedure.
Provide lone worker training
For lone working staff, training is particularly important as they work in environments where there are no colleagues around to provide a helping hand or point out a mistake that could lead to an accident.
News stories regularly point out lack of training as a contributing or sole factor for serious workplace injuries and fatalities.
Training for lone workers is incredibly important for a business to implement as it can:
- Prevent accidents caused by improper work practices or techniques
- Prevent serious incidents of violence by defusing potentially violent situations
- Prevent escalation/severity of an accident or incident by knowing how to respond
- Challenge complacent attitudes amongst lone workers
- Create a positive health and safety culture
- Increase wellbeing, confidence and productivity
- Help you meet your legal duty of care to lone working staff
- Help you avoid the financial costs related to accidents and incidents
International Lone worker legislation
Health and safety legislation around the world is beginning to recognise lone working practices and understand that extra steps need to be taken to ensure lone worker safety.
Lone working law in Australia
As of 1st January 2014, it became compulsory under the OSH regulations for employers to monitor the health and well-being of any employees working remotely or in isolation. Effective communication systems must be in place for employees who work alone as well as access to assistance from emergency services.
“A person conducting a business or undertaking must manage the risks associated with remote or isolated work, including ensuring effective communication with the worker carrying out remote or isolated work.”
Lone working health and safety in New Zealand
Since the recent introduction of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, employees are required to maintain regular contact with employees working alone or in isolation, or if impractical, they should check in with another person as regular intervals. The employer must also provide an effective means of getting help quickly in an emergency.
Part 2 of the Health and Safety at Work (General Risk and Workplace Management) Regulations 2016
“(1) A PCBU* must manage, in accordance with regulations 5 to 8, risks to the health and safety of a worker who performs remote or isolated work.
(2) To minimise risks to the health and safety of a worker associated with remote or isolated work, a PCBU must provide a system of work that includes effective communication with the worker.
(3) A PCBU who contravenes this regulation commits an offence and is liable of conviction.
*a person/entity conducting a business or undertaking
Lone Worker Legislation Canada BC
If your business operates in British Columbia (with the exception of mines and federally chartered workplaces), you are legally required to comply with the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations (OHSR) set out by WorkSafeBC. The purpose of the OSHR is to promote occupational health and safety and to protect workers and anyone affected by work activities, from work-related risks to their health, safety and well-being.
Under section 4.21 of the BC Occupational Health and Safety Regulations, employers operating in Canada must have procedures in place for checking the well-being of employees assigned to work alone or in isolation. Communication must be maintained throughout the day with a final check-in completed when the employee safely completes a session of working alone.
StaySafe is a low cost and easy to use lone worker safety solution that will allow you to comply with standards set out in section G4.21.
G4.21 Procedures for checking the well-being of workers
The StaySafe solution allows you to monitor the location and safety status of employees who work alone. Timed sessions and check-in intervals allow you to keep track of employee wellbeing throughout the day and will alert you automatically when an employee fails to check in or end a session safely. All activity is stored within the Hub allowing you to keep an accurate audit trail.
How do we meet the recommendations set out in G4.21? Download our in-depth guide.
Working alone regulations in Alberta
If an employer has staff who work alone, the OHS code requires the employer to conduct a hazard assessment, implement safety measures, maintain contact at intervals appropriate to the nature of the work and have an effective way of communicating with their employer during an emergency.
Lone Worker Legislation UK
UK legislation is yet to incorporate a lone worker policy statement, but guidance is offered by the Health and Safety Executive. HSE guidance advises employers to assess the risks associated with lone working, provide training and ensure there are systems in place to monitor their lone workers. HSE also place emphasis on the importance of maintaining regular contact with lone workers and providing them with a way to signal for help.
Lone Working Legislation USA
Health and safety legislation differ slightly across the US states and like the UK, USA health and safety legislation is yet to officially incorporate lone working. However, OSHA, the agency responsible for enforcing the Occupational Safety and Health Act across the US, cites having a work alone policy as a general duty.
Working alone regulations
There are a number of regulatory bodies across the world who are responsible for reinforcing safe work environments. They will offer businesses advice on lone working and how you can manage lone worker safety.
UK: Who are the HSE and what do they do?
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is the body responsible for the encouragement, regulation and enforcement of workplace health, safety and welfare, and for research into occupational risks in England and Wales and Scotland.
HSE lone working
The HSE is sponsored by the Department for Work and Pensions and is a key source for lone worker safety information. You can read their guide to lone working here.
[h3] Who are OSHA and what do they do?
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is run by the United States Department of Labor and was created to assure safe and healthy working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance.
Who does OSHA protect?
OSHA provides guidance on protecting all employees. From traditional office based employees to self-employed, contractors and lone workers. When talking about lone worker safety OSHA suggests the lone workers be checked on at regular intervals.
Who does OSHA regulate?
As a government body, OSHA regulates most private sector employers and their workers, in addition to some public sector employers and workers in the 50 states and certain territories and jurisdictions under federal authority.
Who can work alone?
Legally, anyone can work alone as long as a risk assessment has found that it is safe to do so. Lone working is usually completely safe once extra procedures have been put in place to minimise the additional risk lone workers face.
However, there are some instances where lone working should not be permitted if the job is high risk. For example, operating machinery which requires more than one person, visiting clients with a background in violence or other environments where violence is common such as betting shops.
Can someone with medical conditions work alone?
To determine whether someone with a medical condition can work alone, you will need to consider employee medical conditions as part of your risk assessment and ensure there are procedures in place to protect them.
Lone working HSE policy recommends that employers should seek medical advice for specific employees if necessary. You should consider both routine work and foreseeable emergencies that may impose additional physical and mental burdens on an individual.
Can an apprentice work alone?
An apprentice can work alone if it is safe to do so. Employers have the same responsibility to apprentices as they do any other employee. Therefore, they hold a primary responsibility for the health and safety of the apprentice and are required to carry out risk assessments and manage any risk.
Can a 16-year-old work alone?
A 16-year-old can work alone if the organisation employing them has conducted a risk assessment and found it safe to do so. Young people under 18 have different employment rights from adult workers, including where and when they can work.
It may be illegal for employees under 18 to work alone between certain times, for example, 11pm and 6am as is the case in Canada.
For more information on working alone as a young person, please refer to legislation in your geography.
When is lone working not allowed?
Certain situations can put lone workers more at risk than others and in some circumstances, it may be better to not allow lone working at all. For example, some NHS mental health workers must work in pairs at all times when visiting certain patients as it has been deemed unsafe to go alone. It is down to you to ensure that you have undertaken a thorough risk assessment and if you cannot sufficiently mitigate the issues raised, then allowing lone working could put you in breach of your duty of care.
We have explored this issue further in our blog when is lone working not ok?
Supervising lone workers
Employers who deal with lone working employees should ensure that they maintain regular contact and have a way to call for help in an uncomfortable or emergency situation. Lone working solutions, including apps and wearable technology can ensure that these requirements are met by providing lone working staff with a means to contact their employer, check in safely and raise the alarm in an emergency.
You should also consider whether;
- automatic warnings can be activated if specific signals are not received at base
- other warnings are available that raise the alarm in the event of an emergency
- you are able to check that the lone worker has returned to base, or home, on completion of the work
StaySafe Lone Working App
Get in contact with one of our helpful team members should you require any advice.
Our intuitive app monitors the location of lone workers in real-time and allows them to check-in safely once they have finished a lone working or travel session. Find out more about our Lone Working Solution.