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Protecting lone workers

Due to social distancing, lone working has become far more common.

As an employer, you must manage any health and safety risks before people can work alone. This applies to anyone contracted to work for you, including self-employed people.

Lone workers are those who work by themselves without close or direct supervision, for example:

  • as delivery drivers, health workers or engineers

  • as security staff or cleaners

  • in warehouses or petrol stations

  • at home

There will always be greater risks for lone workers without direct supervision or anyone to help them if things go wrong.

It will often be safe to work alone. However, the law requires you to think about and deal with any health and safety risks before people are allowed to do so.

Establishing a healthy and safe working environment for lone workers can be different from organising the health and safety of other workers. Some things to consider in ensuring lone workers are not put at risk include:

  • assessing areas of risk including violence, manual handling, the medical suitability of the individual to work alone and whether the workplace itself presents a risk to them;

  • requirements for training, levels of experience and how best to monitor and supervise them;

  • having systems in place to keep in touch with them and respond to any incident.

There is no legal requirement to conduct a specific, separate risk assessment for lone workers. However, you have a duty to include risks to lone workers in your general risk assessment and take steps to avoid or control risks where necessary. This must include:

  • involving workers when considering potential risks and measures to control them;

  • taking steps to ensure risks are removed where possible, or putting in place control measures, for example by carefully selecting work equipment to ensure the worker can perform what is required safely;

  • instruction, training and supervision;

  • reviewing risk assessments periodically and updating them after any significant changes, such as new staff, processes or equipment;

  • when the lone worker is working at another employer’s workplace, consulting with that employer to identify any risks and required control measures.

Lone working can negatively impact on employees’ work-related stress levels and their mental health. For example, the Stress Management Standards include factors such as relationships with, and support from, other workers and managers. If these are not managed properly, they can lead to work-related stress. Being away from managers and colleagues could mean good support is more difficult to achieve.

Putting procedures in place that allow direct contact between the lone worker and their manager can help. Managing work-related stress relies on understanding what is ‘normal behaviour’ for an employee and recognising abnormal behaviour or symptoms at an early point.

If contact is poor, employees may feel disconnected, isolated or abandoned, which can affect their performance and potentially their stress levels or mental health.

Ways of working are changing with automation and greater use of technology. Types of workers are also changing, for example people are working until they are older. This means employers need to think differently when considering how to keep them healthy and safe.

For further help and advice the HSE website has many resources available, additionally feel free to contact us here.

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