A general overview on lone workers and the legal implications employers face with lone working.

Several jobs can require people to work alone. Lone workers are people who work by themselves without close or direct supervision.

There is no specific law dealing with lone working. However, all health and safety legislation apply equally to lone workers.

The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 states that employers have a duty to ensure the health, safety and welfare of employees; the Act also applies to lone workers.

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require employers to make suitable and sufficient assessments of risks to their employees. Employers are also required to make arrangements for the health and safety of employees by effective planning, organisation, control, monitoring and review. If the risk assessment shows that it is not possible for the work to be done safely by a lone worker, then other arrangements should be put in place.

Unfortunately employers often forget their responsibilities to lone workers, in particular in respect of issues such as risk assessment, welfare provision, recording of injuries, first aid provision and consultation.

Many of the hazards that lone workers face are similar to those faced by other workers. However, the risks involved may be greater because the worker is on their own. Thus, protection of lone workers must start with a full risk assessment of the work that lone workers do. Risk assessment should help employers decide on the right level of supervision.

The HSE, in its guidance on lone working, stresses that the risks must be assessed and controlled and says that employers of lone workers should:

  • involve staff or their representatives when undertaking the required risk assessment process;
  • take steps to check control measures are in place (examples of control measures include instruction, training, supervision and issuing protective equipment);
  • review risk assessments annually or, when there has been a significant change in working practice;
  • when a risk assessment shows it is not possible for the work to be conducted safely by a lone worker, address that risk by, for example, making arrangements to provide help or back-up; and
  • where a lone worker is working at another employer’s workplace, that employer should inform the lone worker’s employer of any risks and the required control measures.

Employers generally think that lone workers are covered by the same policies that apply to other employees. This assumption is wrong because even if many of the risks faced by lone workers are the same as those faced by other workers, lone workers also face increased and additional risk.

It is paramount for employers to have a Lone Working Policy in place in order to comply with their legal obligations. The purpose of a well drafted Lone Working Policy is to ensure that there are adequate systems in place to ensure the health, safety and welfare of lone workers in order to reduce the risks of lone working as far as is reasonably possible and practicable. It should set out the steps employers should take in order to comply with their legal duties to ensure the health, safety and welfare of their employees under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. It should also provide the framework for identifying the possible risks faced by lone workers and outlines the procedure that must be followed to minimize or pre-empt those risks in order to comply with The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

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