Lone work – an isolated issue?

30 June 2014

Lone workers are defined as those who work by themselves without close or direct supervision. Examples include those who work for long periods alone within a fixed establishment, e.g. warehouse operatives, and mobile workers, e.g. electricians or care workers visiting clients at their home. It is not illegal for employees to work alone, however employers must ensure staff are not put at any increased risk in doing so.

Risk assessment of the work task will identify if control measures can be introduced to reduce the risk to an acceptable level and enable the lone work to be carried out safely.

Emergency procedures should include arrangements to ensure the safety of those that are required to work alone, e.g the provision of mobile phones, radios or panic alarms can help workers summon assistance in an emergency.

Field based workers may be required to meet members of the public or clients, either alone or in a remote office, which could expose the staff member to violent or aggressive behaviour. Robust communication procedures can assist in identifying the safety of the lone worker.

For example, in order to provide security, the staff member could place a ‘check in’ call with a colleague upon arrival, stating how long the visit is expected to last, and make another call when the visit is over.

If the second call is not received this will prompt emergency procedures to be implemented. All emergency procedures should be communicated to relevant staff and tested at regular intervals to validate effectiveness.

It is important to consider the individual who is required to carry out the lone work. Employers should ensure staff are competent to carry out the task and are aware of the precautions required before allowing them to work alone. Providing training and conducting an initial assessment of their ability will help establish if staff are competent to conduct the work safely and alone. If an individual has a medical condition that could raise concern about their ability to work safely alone, medical advice should be sought.

In addition, on-site monitoring of lone workers at regular intervals will ensure that work practise remains in line with training and instruction. Regular contact will also assist in making the employee feel part of the business, as lone work can have a negative effect on the mental health of employees, a hazard that should not be overlooked during the risk assessment process.

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