What is a lone worker? Everything you need to know

With up to 8 million people in the UK are employed as lone workers, it’s likely that you know or employ a good number of them.

What may be less clear is how you can define a lone worker and what responsibilities you might for them. In this post, we’ll look at the steps an employer should take when hiring lone workers to ensure they’re covered against any legal action.

What is a lone worker?

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) defines lone workers as those who work by themselves without any direct supervision.

However, you’d be mistaken in thinking that lone workers are only those who work in isolation. The majority of lone workers are not physically alone all the time: many of them work with the general public or in a larger team but the nature of their job means they have to work without direct supervision from time to time.

Still, these workers need to be protected — and the onus is on the employer to ensure their safety at all times.

What types of jobs involve lone working?

Lorry driver alone on a road

There are a wide variety of occupations that involve lone working, even within big organisations. We’ve put together a list of examples that you can refer to:

Type of lone workerExamples
Out-of-hours staffCleaners, security, maintenance and repair staff, virtual receptionists
Fixed establishments where there is only one member of staffPetrol stations, kiosks, home workers
People working separately from others in the same fixed establishmentFactories, warehouses
Service workersPostal staff, social workers, probation officers
Workers whose occupation involves a lot of lone travelLorry drivers, taxi drivers, sales representatives

Is it legal to have lone workers?

Yes, it is legal, as long as employers take the right safety precautions first. What do businesses need to do when they have lone workers?

Section 19 of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 requires the employer to undertake a risk assessment. The law requires employers to carefully consider any health and safety risks a lone worker might face in any environment and take action to combat them. They should then implement a lone worker policy, which should be communicated regularly to all staff.

Employers aren’t just responsible for the health and safety of their own workers: they’re also responsible for the safety of contractors and self-employed staff that they hire, too.

What hazards might a lone worker be exposed to?

While some hazards can be seen, others are not so obvious. Here are some risks a lone worker could be exposed to at any time:

  • Work-related accidents (e.g. injuries when working with machinery)
  • Sudden illness (e.g. loss of consciousness, cardiac arrest)
  • Violence from clients or members of the public (e.g. social work, security)
  • Environmental accidents (e.g. slips, falls)
  • Lack of sleep leading to an increased risk of harm to workers and others (e.g. drivers staying on the road too long)

What steps do employers need to take to protect lone workers?

Here are some key steps that an employer should take to stay compliant with existing health and safety legislation:

  • Carry out a full risk assessment — Assess the environment and the role to determine the correct level of supervision. If your workers will be working in confined spaces, near live electricity conductors or with clients who could become violent, they probably need at least one other person present.
  • Supply the best work equipment — Ensure that lone workers have all the equipment they need to carry out their job safely. For example, maintenance workers may need voltage-insulated gloves and shoes in case they need to carry out electrical work.
  • Provide proper training — Educate employees about the risks of lone working, their rights when working alone, and measures they can take to keep themselves safe.
  • Monitor lone workers remotely — Find a personal protection service that allows you to get real-time updates on your employee’s status.

How to carry out a risk assessment for a lone worker

To carry out an effective risk assessment, you can follow this checklist provided by the HSE:

  • Check whether the workplace requires equipment that it would be difficult for one person to control, such as ladders or pulleys.
  • Check that the worker can safely access their place of work without risk of being locked in or out.
  • Ensure that any machinery being used can be safely operated by one person.
  • Determine whether chemicals or hazardous substances that pose a risk to a lone worker will be required.
  • Determine whether the work involves lifting objects too heavy for one person to carry safely.
  • Identify whether there is any risk of violence posed by members of the public.
  • Consider whether the lone worker is at more risk than the average person (e.g. if they’re particularly young, elderly, or whether they have any pre-existing conditions that require close attention).
  • Ensure communication can be clearly maintained with the worker if English is not their first language.

What can lone workers do to keep safe?

With the proper training, you can ensure lone workers keep themselves as safe as possible while working by avoiding the risks you’ve identified with them.

What’s most important is that they know where to draw the line between a safe activity and a risky one. Employers should set the limits for employees before they go to work and keep in touch with their staff at regular intervals to ensure those limits are being adhered to.

How can workers be supervised when they’re alone?

No matter how many precautions you and your workers take, accidents can still happen. That’s why it’s crucial that you have a remote lone worker solution that allows you to respond rapidly should anything happen.

At CALLCARE, we solve this problem with our lone worker protection helplines. We have a dedicated team who keep in touch with your remote employees at regular intervals to ensure they’re safe. If there are any problems, our team can respond immediately with the appropriate action, whether that’s contacting a supervisor or calling the emergency services.

Learn more about our lone worker solutions here.

Natasa Christofidou
Natasa Christofidou

Writes articles about customer service and business process outsourcing.