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

5 min read

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

Employers have a duty of care to protect their employees from harm. 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. So when is working alone not okay?

Nurse working alone

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 assess 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



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.

View our full guide on lone worker risk assessments

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;

Lone Working FAQ

Employers can legally require one person to work overnight alone. Security guards regularly monitor buildings alone throughout the night, whilst other roles such as a hotel receptionists or a petrol station attendants may work alone out of hours. Employees who work in these roles may be seen as  easy targets for threats, such as theft or violence, and extra precautions should be put in place.

It is legal for an apprentice to work alone if it is safe to do so. Employers have the same responsibilities 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 potential threats.

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

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. You can find out more about young worker legislation here.

Working alone in a shop is completely legal and 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 consider the local crime rates, employee training levels and what emergency procedures are in place.

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