Many businesses have at least some lone workers, and for some businesses, the majority of workers work alone for much of their time. Lone workers include:
- Home workers
- Those visiting the public at home
- Peripatetic workers
- Security staff
- Some retail staff
If you work out of sight and sound of your colleagues for prolonged periods, you are a lone worker. If you work different hours, or in a different location, you are a lone worker.
It is generally well understood that the employer must have a risk assessment for lone workers, but there are different approaches to this duty. Some employers will incorporate lone working risks in a general assessment, or assess various types of lone working in the company, and others will assess individuals. This can be a good approach as it will focus attention on personal issues for an individual, which must be taken into account. Bear in mind, though, that this type of personal risk assessment must be treated as confidential and not made available generally.
The risk assessment will need to cover all risks to the lone worker from the work activity and environment, and from anyone the lone worker might come in contact with. It needs to look carefully at the effect of lone working on mental health, and the risk of violence. It also needs to cover foreseeable emergencies, such as fire or accident, and any potential medical needs. Seek medical advice if this seems to be an issue.
Employers’ duty to lone workers is the same as to any other worker. Note that the worker category will include contractors and the self employed if they are working for you, alone or otherwise. Particularly highlighted for lone workers is the duty to train, supervise and monitor your lone workers. What this means in practice will depend on the findings of your risk assessment, and could involve regular visits, video meetings, or a prearranged phone call.
Particularly for workers in public areas, you must know where they are at all times. You must also have a robust system for ensuring their safety at the end of their working day. Whatever means you use to look after your lone workers, it will need to be regularly checked to ensure it is working well. When implementing systems, don’t forget that you must involve the people concerned, so talk to your lone workers about the risks they perceive, and the reassurances they would welcome.
There are a few very high risk tasks which should not be undertaken alone, but most work can be done alone provided the appropriate safeguards are in place. Perhaps the most universal risk to lone workers is of isolation. This will be welcomed by a minority, but probably more will miss colleagues and the bustle of the work environment. This can be resolved using tech solutions, and by making sure that the lone worker is involved in all social and team activities.