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Is it safe to work alone? Article by Jackie Dolan

Working alone is not in itself against the law but whether it is safe to do so depends upon the potential hazards facing the lone worker carrying out their duties and the law does require employers and self- employed workers to consider carefully and then deal with any health and safety risks that could occur.

Who are lone workers?

The classification of lone workers cuts across a myriad of jobs and professions linked only by the fact that it involves work which at least some of the time, has to be done without the continuous support of colleagues. The Health & Safety Executive define lone workers as:

“those who work by themselves without close or direct supervision”

We can further extend tis definition to include:

“Or someone working out of sight or earshot of another colleague for part or all of their working day”.

The need to work alone crosses all boundaries of industry and seniority. Lone workers can be anyone – taxi drivers, nurses, estate agents, security guards, transport operatives, teachers, journalists, cleaners etc. but can also include:

  • Those who work in other people’s homes (meter readers, housing officers…)
  • Those who work in direct contact with the public (customer service officers, retail assistants)
  • Working from home (therapists)
  • Those who work outside of normal hours (cleaners, maintenance)
  • A person working alone in a small workshop, kiosk, shop or petrol station
  • Working alone in a building ( factories, warehouses, leisure centres, cinemas)
  • Workers involved in construction, maintenance and repair
  • Agricultural and forest workers
  • Service workers including postal staff, health & social care, engineers, sales staff…
  • Those who work in direct contact with the public (customer service officers, retail assistants)
  • Working from home (therapists)
  • Those who work outside of normal hours (cleaners, maintenance)
  • A person working alone in a small workshop, kiosk, shop or petrol station
  • Working alone in a building ( factories, warehouses, leisure centres, cinemas)
  • Workers involved in construction, maintenance and repair
  • Agricultural and forest workers
  • Service workers including postal staff, health & social care, engineers, sales staff…

Is lone working safe?

While it is often safe and rewarding to working alone, it can be when other circumstances are present that both employers and employees must take prudent precautions to reduce potential risks to lone working staff. Whether a situation is a high or low risk will depend on the location, type of work, interaction with the public or the consequences of an emergency, accident injury etc. This wide variety of circumstances make it important to assess each situation individually. Working alone can increase the likelihood of the hazard or risk e.g. a petrol kiosk attendant may be more likely to be assaulted because they work alone. Working alone can also increase the severity of workplace injuries, e.g. a factory worker injured by heavy equipment has an increased chance of severe consequences if they are working alone rather than with colleagues who can help. Thee type of risks lone workers might be exposed to include:

  • Accidents or emergencies arising out of the work, including inadequate provision of first aid.
  • Sudden illness
  • Inadequate provision of rest, hygiene or welfare facilities
  • Physical violence from members of the public

Examples of high risk activities

Environmental Violence or Abuse
  • Working at height
  • In confined spaces
  • With electricity
  • With hazardous substances or materials
  • With hazardous equipment
  • With materials at great pressure
  • Handling cash
  • Giving A Service
  • Enforcement
  • Working with vulnerable people
  • Discussing sensitive information
  • 9055
  • Last modified on Monday, 07 December 2015 14:55
Jackie Dolan

Specialist trainer in worplace violence and bullying and harassment. Have run my own business for 16 years, working in many different organisations both public and private. For many years I was a trainer for The Suzy Lamplugh Trust and wrote the book, "Working Alone - surviving & thriving" with Diana Lamplugh OBE. At the moment I am writing a book on bullying at work and hope to publish in 2010. I am being helped in this by Christine Pratt of The National Online Bullying Charity.

Website: www.nntc.org.uk

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