Working alone from time to time is a common occurrence that many people experience on a regular basis. In fact, according to the Office of National Statistics around 6 million of us in the UK do this every day.
Lone working can reduce costs, increase productivity and give employers more flexibility, which is why many organisations favour deploying a single staff member if a task can be comfortably carried out by one person. However, in some situations this can make employees more vulnerable, as getting help is harder should they fall victim to an attack or suffer an accident.
Safety whilst working without direct supervision is important, but often workers are unsure what their employers should be doing to ensure they are looked after. We’ve assembled a quick Q&A to outline what both employers and employees need to know about their rights and responsibilities regarding lone working.
Lone working itself is perfectly legal, employers do however have a Duty of Care to safeguard their workforce and can find themselves on the receiving end of hefty fines should they fail to do so. The law requires employers to ensure that their workers are ‘reasonably safe’ and put measures in place to satisfy this. Relevant legislation which must be complied with is listed below:
If an organisation has 5 or more workers a risk assessment must be undertaken, recording any significant findings and control measures to address these. This needs to comprehensively cover the risks to each employee associated with their specific job role and the environment(s) that they work in. Employers should adapt their risk assessment to take into account pregnant workers, those under the age of 18 and workers with a disability.
Prevention is the best cure and employees are often best placed to identify safety risks, as they are most familiar with their roles. Openness should be encouraged by managers, allowing workers to come forward and report potential dangers. Employers should make it a priority to discuss any risks raised by staff and take action to reduce these.
Employees should receive training on how to work correctly and safely. This must cover dealing with any risks, recognising danger signs, what to do in an emergency and how to de-escalate a difficult situation if applicable. Lone workers should also be advised on safe lone working practices and any procedures to ensure their safety, including how to use personal alarms. If an employee feels they have not been shown how to do a task safely, they should request training from their employer before attempting it.
The amount of supervision required will be determined by the level of risk. The greater the danger, the more closely employers will need to monitor their workers. This could be as simple as a receiving a ‘check-in’ phone call at certain intervals to make sure all is well. Whichever method is used, the only requirement is that the procedure ensures the safety of the employee. There’s no requirement for employers to supply mobile phones or a landline, unless this is deemed necessary.
Under current UK legislation, companies must take measures to protect the welfare of all employees, regardless if they work supervised or alone. The following are examples of safety precautions that organisations may want to implement:
Working alone may not be appropriate full stop in some high-risk situations, for example if lone workers are likely to encounter aggressive customers, those with mental health problems or individuals under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Some industries even have specific restrictions on tasks that can be carried out by a lone worker, for example the transportation of explosives should never be assigned to one person.