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When is working alone not ok? Lone worker law and legislation

Emergency response to work accident

Article contents

What is classed as lone working?
Is it legal to work alone?
Legislation and regulations for working alone
What is the law on lone working?
Is it legal for one person to work overnight?
Is it illegal for an apprentice to work alone?
Are you allowed to work alone in a factory?
Can a 16 year old work alone?
Are you allowed to work alone in a shop?
Lone worker risks and hazards
Health and safety for lone workers
Lone worker risk assessment
Monitoring employees using lone worker apps

For many organisations, lone working increases productivity, flexibility and reduces cost, without posing additional safety threat to staff.

However, there have sadly been several situations of lone working in recent years that has led to disaster. In 2006, mental health worker Ashleigh Ewing was stabbed to death by a client in his home, and in 2013, Andrew Locovou was murdered by a customer while single-manning a betting shop late in the evening. Following these tragedies, it has since been ruled that the organisations involved should have conducted more stringent risk assessments and lone working should not have been permitted.

So how can you as asses when it’s OK to allow lone working – and when it’s not? This article will discuss the risks and hazards of lone working and take a look at different situations where lone working may be considered unsafe.

What is classed as lone working?

Lone working is when work activities are carried out without the direct and immediate support of supervisors or colleagues. To put it simply, if an employee cannot be seen or heard by a colleague, they are lone working, whether that be for all or part of their working day.

Is it legal to work alone?

Working alone is completely legal and is usually safe to do so. However, a risk assessment must have been carried out on lone working activities beforehand and determined to be safe. If a lone working situation is considered high risk, processes must be put in place to mitigate risk or else lone working should not be permitted.

Legislation and regulations for working alone

There are several laws which hold the employer responsible for protecting the safety of everyone in their employment:

– The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974
– The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999
– The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007

In the case that a lone worker is threatened, attacked or injured at work, legal procedures could cost the business in fines, resources and time, with cases taking months or even years to complete. In some cases, the employer could also face prosecution and imprisonment if they are found to be at fault.

What is the law on lone working?

While there are few pieces of legislation that focus specifically on lone working rules, the duty of care remains the same as with other employees. Under most lone working regulations around the world, the employer’s responsibility includes;

  • Conducting thorough lone worker risk assessments
  • Producing a written health and safety policy and ensuring all employees understand it
  • Taking steps to reduce or eliminate risk in order to create a safe working environment
  • Providing information, instruction, lone worker training and supervision where appropriate
  • Regularly reviewing and improving upon lone worker risk assessments and policies

Is it legal for one person to work overnight?

It is completely legal for one person to work overnight. Security guards regularly man a building alone throughout the night, while other jobs such as hotel receptionist or manning a petrol station also require out of hours lone working. However, due to such employees potentially being considered easy targets for abuse or theft, extra precautions should be put in place such as a panic button.

Is it legal for an apprentice to work alone?

It is legal for an apprentice to work alone if it is safe to do so. Employers have the same responsibility to apprentices as they do any other employee. Therefore, they hold a primary responsibility for the health and safety of the apprentice and are required to carry out risk assessments and manage any risk.

Are you allowed to work alone in a factory?

Working alone in a factory is also allowed. However, the job role being carried out alone in the factory should be taken into consideration. If operating machinery for example, you must ensure it is suitable for one person to operate. You should also take into consideration how an alarm can be raised in an emergency and what the response time is likely to be.

Can a 16 year old work alone?

A 16-year-old can work alone if the organisation employing them has conducted a risk assessment and found it safe to do so. Young people under 18 have different employment rights from adult workers, including where and when they can work.

Are you allowed to work alone in a shop?

Working alone in a shop is allowed and is extremely common practice. Extra safety measures should be taken however, as lone shop workers can become easy targets for robberies and other crimes. A risk assessment must also be carried out and take into consideration local crime rates, employee training levels and what emergency procedures are in place.

Lone worker Risks and Hazards – How is a lone worker at risk in the workplace?

Certain environments increase risk to employees where customers or the public are more likely to become upset, aggressive or take advantage of a lone worker. Environments where alcohol, gambling and/or money are involved as well as sensitive social work, can cause sudden mood changes. It is often the lone worker who faces the backlash and are left dealing with the customer or patient on their own.

As I touched on earlier, there have been many examples of tragic attacks on lone workers in the news over the last 10 years. Here are just two examples:

Ashleigh Ewing 2006 mental health lone worker case

In 2006, mental health charity worker, Ashleigh Ewing, was sent to the home of a paranoid schizophrenic to deliver him a letter informing him he was in debt.

Ronald Dixon, who had a known history of mental health issues, became angered and stabbed Ashleigh 39 times with kitchen knives and a pair of scissors. This was just months after Dixon had made an attempt to kill the Queen at Buckingham Palace.

Mental Health Matters had not carried out a risk assessment on Dixon for three years. Had a risk assessment been carried out and Dixon’s mental state taken into consideration, Ashleigh would not have been sent to his house alone and her tragic murder would have been avoided.

A report following the murder even stated: “It is the view of the panel that if a robust risk assessment had been completed including a consideration of the lone working policy…such lone working would have been abandoned and joint visits implemented.”

Andrew Locovou 2013 Ladbrokes lone worker case

In 2010 Ladbrokes introduced single-manning as a way to reduce costs and increase profits. This meant that employees were expected to man a betting shop on their own for all or part of the working day. With shops typically being open until 10pm, this left employees alone late in the evening with potentially frustrated and desperate customers.

3 years after lone working was introduced, Andrew Locovou was brutally battered to death with a hammer whilst working alone. Shafique Ahmad Aarij had lost a large amount of money on the machines and, angered by the situation, murdered Locovou before stealing £296 from the shop till.

Shockingly, this was one of 10 serious attacks to Ladbrokes staff over this time. In 2015 another young worker was attacked, dragged to an unmonitored office, raped and left for dead by a customer after he too had lost a large amount of money.

Again, both of these attacks would have been avoided had appropriate health and safety procedures been carried out by the business.

Allowing employees to work alone in a potentially dangerous environment was not the only failing which led to the death and rape of the two employees;

  • Andrew had pressed a panic alarm in the store during the attack which went to the Head office but the police were not called.
    • The rape victim stated afterwards that she had not been given any training and did not know what to do if a customer was losing a lot of money.

As a result, Ladbrokes are still facing court procedures 3 years on, a life has been lost and several others changed forever.

Health and safety for lone workers

Employers are responsible for the health, safety and welfare at work of all their workers, and the examples explained above show why it is so important.

In some environments, no matter how stringent the risk assessment or safety measures put in place, the risk is too great to allow for lone working. Conversely, for many organisations lone working safely increases productivity, flexibility and reduces costs.

So how can you assess the risks your lone workers and make the judgement call?

Lone Worker Risk Assessment

The first and most important step to determining whether your employees are safe to work alone, is carrying out a thorough risk assessment for each employee/environment as appropriate.

If the risks identified through the process are too high or uncontrollable you must not let your employees work alone under any circumstance.

If, however, steps can be taken to reduce risk to a controllable level, in line with legislation (see below) it may be safe to allow your employees to work alone, following the implementation of a strong lone worker policy.

What is a lone worker policy? How do you know if your workers are safe?

A lone worker policy is a guide that will set out your companies’ rules on working alone and help your employees to understand the risks of their role. It should also provide them with practical advice and instruction on how to safely carry out their jobs.

A regular review of both your risk assessments and lone worker policy, will help you to know if your lone workers are safe. You may also wish to carry out inspections to ensure safe work practices are being followed.

Monitoring Employees using Lone Worker Apps

Monitoring is incredibly important in managing the safety of lone workers, due to the associated risks and difficulty in receiving nearby assistance or raising an alarm. Regular communication should be maintained with lone working staff and procedures put in place so that employees can quickly communicate with their employer and raise the alarm if needed.

Manual methods of monitoring can be incredibly time consuming and unreliable which is why we developed StaySafe, an easy to use app and online monitoring hub that offers a way for lone workers to raise an alarm in any situation – even if the lone worker is unable to trigger an alert themselves. The apps main functionality includes;

The app also monitors the location of lone workers which can be monitored in real time in the StaySafe hub, so that assistance can be sent directly to an employee in an emergency.


  1. Bill Mc Dowall

    I have been instructed to have a woman who has worked with our organisation for 26 years and is now 71 years of age to work alone on a Tuesday and Wednesday till 10-30pm . As we approach Autumn and the night draw darker. Is this legal

    • Naomi Billington

      Hi Bill. Lone working in itself is not illegal. However, the organisation must carry out a risk assessment to decide whether lone working is safe, taking into consideration the individual as well as the work environment. If substantial risk to the employee is found but no actions are taken to eliminate or reduce risk, the organisation could legally be found to be at fault and face legal proceedings. Take a look at this guide from HSE for more guidance – http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg73.pdf

    • Christine vottrell

      My husband has been instructed to work Saturdays from 6am until 6pm alone in s printing company with no access to first aid kits or an outside telephone line he is very experienced but has a history of heart attack’s a quadruple by pass and is now in heart failure. Can he be made to do this .

      • Victoria Bello

        Hi Christine,
        Whilst it is not illegal for your husband to be working alone, if he has any concerns about his overall welfare, especially if he has a history of ill health, he should definitely voice his concerns to management. The law requires employers to consider carefully, and then deal with, any health and safety risks for people working alone.

  2. Pete

    Hi We have 2 factory’s and we have 1 person working in one factory and 2 in the other factory. One factory is working with big machines and is it against the law for him wrk on is own

    • Naomi Billington

      Hi Pete! It is not illegal for anyone to work alone. However, you must risk assess the work environment and make sure you eliminate or minimise any risk so that the work environment is safe for him. Legally, the business could be at fault is any worker is injured if sufficient safe practices have not been put in place. For more guidance take a look at this guide from HSE – http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg73.pdf

  3. Emma

    Can someone work alone in a big retail shop while also running a post office until 10pm??

    • Victoria Bello

      Whilst the law does not suggest this to be illegal, if the individual has any concerns about their overall safety or well being they should voice these to management. The law requires employers to consider carefully, and then deal with, any health and safety risks for people working alone.

  4. Fiona

    Hi! My daughter is 19 and works in a busy take away sandwich place, most nights she is there for 2 hours on her own and has to cash up on her own. She has mentioned to me numerous times that she doesn’t feel safe on her own. She has mentioned this to her manager and he just goes on about hours being cut and there is nothing he can do! Could you offer her any advice?

    • Victoria Bello

      Hi Fiona,
      As lone working in itself is not illegal it may be difficult to resolve this issue however, we would suggest she discusses adopting new safety solutions with her manager for example, a panic alarm or a lone worker app may give her more security.

  5. Lilian

    I’m a health care assistant and we have moved to a new base where after 6pm we will be working from alone we’ve been told as the last person in office we’ve to set alarm system is this allowed ?

    • Victoria Bello

      Hi Lilian,

      Legally this allowed however, if you have any concerns about your safety please do bring this to the attention of management.

  6. Nina

    Hi i work in a residential home with people who have disabilities, one resident is a convicted rapist and child molester. I work 12 hour shifts at night on my own, there are 9 residents altogether. I am new and feel extremely uncomfortable with this.. am i entitled to tell my boss i want someone to work with me?

    • Victoria Bello

      Hi Nina,
      We would definitely recommend bringing your concerns to the attention of management especially if working alone in this environment is making you feel uncomfortable or at risk. The law requires employers to consider carefully and then deal with any health and safety risks for people working alone.

  7. K. Huntsman

    Hi, I do work as an hotel receptionist alone from 11pm to 7am. The hotel has 85 rooms from the basement to the 5th floor. The hotel never did any risk assessment plan since I started. No training in H&S at all. I have been threatened by some people (not guests) and had to call the police sometimes. The hotel is located in a risky area in Central London. Is it legal the hotel never carried on a risk assessment? Plus the hotel entrance s t’s vulnerable. If I have to go to the 5th floor, I will not know if a strange trespasses the premises.

    • Victoria Bello

      Hi there,
      The law requires employers to consider carefully, and then deal with, any health and safety risks for people working alone. I would suggest outlining all of these concerns to your manager so you can both come up with a solution that helps to make you feel more safe. You can find out more here http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg73.pdf

      Hope this helps!

  8. alison armstrong

    I work in a garage /shop at the moment after 5.30 I work till 9 o’clock a lock up alone .

    • Victoria Bello

      Hi Alison,

      If you have any safety concerns with this arrangement we would recommend bringing them to the attention of your employer immediately. By law, all companies must take into consideration any safety concerns their workers have and act accordingly.

      Hope this helps!
      Best wishes

  9. Emma Howard

    I work at a lettings agency and the company provides accommodation to homesless families (no vetting has been done on these tenants). I have to visit these tenants alone and sometimes get told to use a spare key. No risk assessments have been carried out and no training given. Its quite scary as u never know whats at the other side of the door.
    Is this allowed?

  10. Lorna Mckeown

    I have worked alone on lots of occasions .from.9am till.8pm . for the past 8 years n a retail shop in a retail park , for a major bed company no cameras in our shop or ctv outside , no panic buttons , only realised we had a lone working policy recently. .never been shown this .is this legal., to my knowledge. Never had a personal , risk assessment . Is this legal

    • Victoria Bello

      Hi Lorna,

      Whilst it is not illegal for you to work alone at night, by law all companies have to assess the risk to employees whilst working and try to mitigate these as much as possible. I would suggest speaking with you employer to find out more information about the lone working policies and ensure you feel safe whilst working your shifts.

      Hope this helps!

  11. how to remove lvds cable

    Thanks for finally writing about >Lone Working Law and
    Legislation – When is Working Alone Not OK? <Loved it!

  12. karen black

    I was lone working and sleeping over , I developed diarrhoea and vomiting , phoned for somebody and was told there was no one . My client is a vunerable adult who can be extremely ill if contracting stomach upset . They gave no assistance to me or considered the risk to my client . I have been asked to write a letter to my service manager explaining my grievance by unison . What can I do to stop this happening again and to make to make those responsible be investigated ?

    • Victoria Bello

      Hi Karen,

      I’m really sorry to hear about your experience. By law, all companies but assess and mitigate any risk to their employees whilst working. I would suggest voicing these concerns to the appropriate contact at work and explaining to them your fears and concerns. You can find more information about this topic on the HSE website.

      Hope this helps!

  13. Jamie

    Hi, I work in a shop completing shifts ranging between 6 and 9 hours, alone. The company has told us we are not allowed to lock the shop for any reason during opening hours (including to take a break or even go to the toilet) and that we must take our break whilst crossing over with another staff member (some days there is no cross over and when there is it’s usually around an hour or two which would mean having to take breaks right at the start/end of the shift. I obviously do lock the shop so I can at least use the toilet but if I’m found doing this there will be disciplinary action). The company are fully aware of the fact that staff are not able to take breaks and that we often work a whole day alone, I’m aware that this is illegal but looking for advice on how to address this matter. Many Thanks

    • Victoria Bello

      Hi Jamie,

      It is not illegal for individuals to work alone however, by law you are entitled to a break dependant on how long you have worked that day. I would suggest voicing these concerns to management. You can find out more on this topic via this link https://www.gov.uk/rest-breaks-work

      Hope this helps!

  14. Christopher Hames

    Hi my name is Christopher Hames
    I was involved in a direct armed robbery at work today. I am an employee at a big off license group. The incident happened at 19h30. During the robbery I was left alone at work. A person came in with a baraclava and pointed a gun at my stomach. Threatening to shoot me if I don’t give him all the cash in the store. During this time I was following my training and pushing emergency buttons multiple times only to find out that my manager was aware that the alarm system was not working. Knowing this he still left me alone for an hour to leave the premises and go on his break for an hour. Knowing full well that the alarm system was not working and also knowing that our store has previously been held up at gun point during this time before. I am experiencing a lot of trauma I am unable to sleep and fear for my life to go back to work and be alone all day until 6pm, knowing I have to open, lock up and do cash up alone. I am not able to afford to not work but i am now in too much fear to go back to work. Knowing that the company knew full well that my safety was risk today with security systems not working what rights do I have as an employee in this situation? I was in mortal danger today and am now suffering the consequences of gross negligence of my employer. I appreciate any advice you can offer me. Thank you

    • Victoria Bello

      Hi Christopher,

      We are so sorry to hear of this situation, it sounds very serious. We are not qualified to give advice on this matter and so would suggest that you contact your union if you have one, citizens advice bureau or a law firm directly for advice.

      Best wishes

  15. Judith McAndrew

    I work retail in a not so safe area. The store is very large.No security systems in place.Since new owners took over I am there alot on my own.Fear for safety is a huge problem for me.Is this legal? I have voiced my concerns to them.No reply except maybe get a concealed and carry permit.

    • Victoria Bello

      Hi Judith,

      Whilst it is not illegal for you to be at work alone, y law, all companies must consider and act upon any risks to the health and safety of their workers. I would continue to push this with you employer.

      Best wishes

  16. bemoaning

    Gгeеtіngs! Very useful advice within this article!
    It’ѕ the little changes that pгoduce the largest chаngeѕ.

    Thanks a lot for ѕhaгing!

  17. David

    Hi can a 17 year old be left alone on the work premises for the whole day as long as a risk assessment is in place thanks

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