What is Lone Working?
Occasions may arise that, at times, workers in an organization may have to work alone. The UK Health and Safety Executive defines lone workers as: “Lone workers are those who work by themselves without close or direct supervision.”
Who can be termed a lone worker?
Any worker who is working alone and is away from his co-workers, such that if something were to go wrong (which may include an incident, accident, or an ill-health situation), it would be difficult for such worker to seek any help due to being “out of sight” and “out of earshot” from the co-workers. Thus, lone workers do face the same hazards at work as any other worker, but they stand exposed to a greater risk of these hazards causing harm.
What are the general hazards and risks that a lone worker can be exposed to?
- Accidents arising from the work
- Being assaulted, threatened or abused by members of the public, or anti-social elements or intruders.
- Medical emergencies arising out of the work
- Provision of inadequate first aid, hygiene, rest, and welfare facilities
- Sudden illness
- Slips, trips, and falls
- Working at height
- Driving to work
- Working with harmful/hazardous substances
- Operating machinery or equipment single-handedly
- They lack assistance in the execution of their task.
- There is no supervision over them.
- Communication with colleagues and management is generally difficult or may not be available.
- In the event of an accident or an emergency, there is none to administer first aid to the lone worker or call out for any help.
- The workplace itself, due to the nature of hazards being present and stress.
Does an employer have a responsibility to care for ‘lone workers?Whilst there are no specific health and safety regulations aimed particularly with regard to “Lone working” nevertheless employers do stand responsible and have a duty of care towards all workers. Two principal regulations in the United Kingdom, “Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 and the “Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999”. The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 states that it shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety, and welfare at work of all his employees. On the other hand, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 requires employers to have consultations with their employees and carry out risk assessments that make arrangements to put into place necessary measures, along with appointing competent people and arranging to provide for appropriate information and training. Thus, employers are required to check that any workers or staff working alone do not have any pre-existing medical conditions that may make them unsuitable or unfit to work alone. An organization must have a lone worker policy that can safeguard lone workers and help promote a strong positive safety culture.
What are general examples of high-risk work where lone should be avoided?
- Working in a confined space
- Working in diving operations
- Working involving fumigation
- Working involving vehicles carrying explosives
- Working near exposed live electricity conductors
Specific Lone worker risk assessment and its consideration:Employers, in order to safeguard their lone workers, must provide for a specific lone worker risk assessment, which should be made in consultation with their workers. It is suggested that the following should be considered when assessing the risks of lone working:?
- Are there any communication issues? (Such as language issues wherein the lone worker’s first language is not English, for communication purposes during an emergency?
- Are there any particular risks to which the lone worker might be more vulnerable than others? (Such a worker being pregnant, hearing disabled, speech disabled, young trainee, etc.)
- Does the worker have a pre-existing medical condition that makes it dangerous to work alone?
- Does the workplace present any specific risk to the lone worker? (For example, manual handling risk, risk of electrocution, etc.)
- Does the workplace provide safe access and egress?
- Does the workplace provide for additional security, such as securing the workplace from intruders?
- What are the available options for remote supervision of the lone worker?
- What communication systems can be provided or are available to the lone worker?
- What emergency procedures can be activated by the lone worker?
- What specific training can be provided for the lone worker?
- Would the area of work present a risk of aggression or violence?
- Would the lone worker be exposed to any hazardous substances (such as chemicals, acids, etc.) that may pose a specific or a particular risk to the worker?
- Would the nature of work involve lifting, carrying, pushing, or pulling any objects beyond a single worker’s physical capacity?
- Would the nature of work involve the operation of hazardous machinery that cannot be operated safely by a single worker?
- Would the lone working affect the worker’s stress level and mental well-being?
How can we control lone working and make it safer?
- Avoiding lone working in high-risk areas or dangerous places.
- Avoid lone work that involves high-risk activity.
- Making a specific lone worker risk assessment
- Making a safe system of work for lone working
- Providing a portable first aid kit
- Providing first aid training to the lone worker
- Providing for health surveillance in the workplace
- Ensuring that lone workers are highly competent in the work they perform
- Providing for lone worker alarm systems that provide remote tracking of the lone worker through GPS or mobile communication systems.
- Providing specific lone working emergency procedures and providing corresponding training to the lone worker
- Installing CCTV in the area of lone working for remote supervision
- Provision for the alarm system to raise the alarm in an emergency
- Communication systems such as mobile radios or telephone system
- Providing for a call-in procedure, wherein the lone worker is instructed to call the base or their base at regular intervals
- Training in personal safety, which may include peaceful conflict resolution
- Conducting periodic site visits
- Making scheduled telephone calls or sending text messages