Lone Workers: A Guide for Employers

Almost two-thirds of remote and isolated workers (64%) report psychological distress, according to research for the British Occupational Health Research Foundation (BOHRF). Lone workers also experience higher levels of general health symptoms compared to other employees, in particular, neck, shoulder and lower back pain.

Lone workers are classified as people who work by themselves without close or direct supervision.  For example, in a fixed establishment:

  • A person working alone in a small workshop, petrol station, kiosk or shop
  • People who work from home other than in low-risk, office-type work
  • People working alone for long periods, such as in factories, warehouses, leisure centres or fairgrounds
  • People working on their own outside normal hours, such as cleaners, security, maintenance or repair staff.

Or, as mobile workers:

  • Workers in construction, maintenance and repair
  • Plant installation
  • Cleaning work
  • Agricultural and forestry
  • Service workers, such as postal staff, social and medical workers, engineers, estate agents and sales or service representatives.

Employers should be aware of any specific law that prohibits lone working in their industry. Examples include supervision in diving operations, vehicles carrying explosives and fumigation work.

The law requires employers to consider all health and safety implications before allowing employees, contractors or self-employed people working for them to work alone. It is important that a company’s lone workers should not be put at more risk than other employees. Occupational health has a major role to play in managing the health and wellbeing of these workers. An occupational health risk assessment is essential in order to identify the relevant risks – physical, mental and psychosocial – that may exist and provide recommendations and support to employers, managers and workers.

It is essential for employers to be aware of employees’ disabilities or medical conditions. Approximately 5-10% of all new joiners will have a medical condition which is relevant to their fitness for work. A pre-appointment health risk assessment will identify whether an applicant can undertake a function that is intrinsic to the role. For some workers, a pre-existing medical condition, such as epilepsy, diabetes or a cardiac condition may pose a risk to their health and safety if working alone. An employer must assess whether an employee is at significantly higher risk when working alone. Activities, such as driving, working at heights, working near water and the use of equipment should be assessed on a case by case basis. Both routine work and potential emergencies should be considered when assessing whether a worker is medically fit to work alone, as this may impose additional physical and mental burdens on the individual.

The aim of an occupational health risk assessment is to avoid and control risk to lone workers and to recognise the impact of lone working. Consulting with workers will help to identify relevant hazards and choose the most appropriate control measures. For example:

  • Assessing all areas of risk to a lone worker, including violence, manual handling, medical suitability / existing medical conditions and the workplace risk
  • Training requirements, appropriate levels of experience, monitoring and supervision
  • Systems for keeping in touch
  • Provisions in case of emergency
  • Regular reviewing of risk assessments, or it there has been a significant change in working practice.

If you would like to discuss how Medwyn Occupational Health can support your organisation undertake lone work risk assessments, develop a lone work policy and staff training, please contact us on 01306 873936, or visit us at www.medwynoh.co.uk.

Further information:

  • hse.gov.uk/toolbox/workers/lone.htm
  • Crawford, J.O, MacCalman, L. (2009) The Health and Wellbeing of Remote Workers – Final Report. Available at http://www.bohrf.org.uk/downloads/224E05_Final_Report-December_2009.pdf