Our comprehensive guide covers everything you need to know about lone working. From identifying the lone workers in your organisation, to the risks they face in different environments, our lone worker guide will ensure you know how to keep your staff protected and meet your legal duty of care.
A lone worker is anyone working without the direct and immediate support of supervisors or colleagues.
What is the OSHA definition of a lone worker?
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines lone workers as “an employee working alone, such as in a confined space or isolated location”
What is classed as lone working?
If an employee cannot be seen or heard by a colleague, they are a lone worker – whether that be for all or part of their working day. This also includes staff who work from home.
Lone working can constitute a wide range of job roles across any industry. Traditionally, the phrase ‘lone worker’ would likely conjure images of an employee working in complete isolation, such as a security guard manning a building at night, or an engineer carrying out maintenance in a remote area. While this may be true for some job roles, lone working doesn’t always mean completely alone.
When identifying lone workers in your organization, it is important to consider ‘hidden lone workers’ in situations which may be overlooked, such as;
Those working on the same site but out of sight and sound of a colleague
Colleagues working alone in different parts of a building
Employees left alone for periods of time while a colleague takes a break
A single employee working late after everyone else has left the worksite
Anyone working alone but alongside members of the public or in populated locations
Staff travelling alone during work hours
Staff members who work from home
What types of jobs involve lone working?
There are many different jobs that involve lone working. Lone workers can be found across every industry, in various job roles, anywhere in the world.
In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, there has also been a significant increase in employees who work from home. In a study conducted by 451 Research – the technology research unit of S&P Global Market Intelligence – 67% of businesses expect their home working policies put in place to tackle the virus to remain in place either permanently or for the long-term.
This figure is likely to increase year on year. Technological advances mean that jobs that used to require a team can be done by an individual with specialist equipment and meetings that used to have to be conducted face to face can be done remotely.
What are the roles of lone workers?
Lone workers are employees who do not have direct supervision when carrying out their duties. Sometimes work is undertaken in areas which are remote, or one-to-one with members of the public or clients.
Lone workers can be at additional risk from violence, aggression or injury as there is no one there to raise the alarm in an emergency.
Workers that are particularly vulnerable to violence and aggression are often those who are public-facing, such as social care workers, paramedics and security guards.
Other job roles are more susceptible to accidental injury, for example construction workers, engineers, field service workers and delivery drivers.
However, it is important that despite these additional risks, lone workers should feel protected. It is the duty of an employer to ensure that reasonable steps are taken to mitigate any risks they face.
How can security be achieved in the workplace?
Ensure a risk assessment is completed prior to any work being carried out and correct health and safety strategies and training are executed
It is an employer’s responsibility to conduct relevant and thorough training for their lone workers
Ensure lone workers are wearing protective and conspicuous clothing, such as Hi-Vis jackets if working underground or late shifts
Keep a record of where staff are, when and who they are with or implement a specialist solution that can do this for you
StaySafe is a solution that has been designed to give visibility of employees locations when they are working alone and enable them to signal for help in an emergency situation.
The most common hazards faced by lone workers vary according to industry and job role. However, the top causes of workplace accidents, incidents and fatalities are fairly consistent around the world.
Lone working hazards include:
Violence and aggression from clients or members of the public
Spills, cables and other tripping hazards
Working at height such as ladders, scaffolding and roofing
Operating machinery and equipment
Working with electricity, chemicals and other harmful substances
Heavy lifting, repetitive movements and vibration
Working around vehicles
Driving for work
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) there were 2.8 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses reported by private industry employers in 2018 and 900,380 reported injuries or illnesses that required an employee to miss at least one day of work.
A health emergency, such as heart attack or stroke, can occur anytime and requires immediate medical assistance. According to the US Department of Labor, there are 220,000 victims of sudden cardiac arrest per year in the United States, with approximately 10,000 occurring at work.
OSHA states that those with higher-risk of violence includes workers who exchange money with the public, delivery drivers, healthcare professionals, public service workers, customer service agents, law enforcement personnel, and those who work alone or in small groups.
Who is most at risk from violence at work?
According to OSHA, research has identified that certain factors increase the risk of violence at work. These include:
Exchanging money with the public
Working with volatile, unstable people
Working alone or in isolated areas
Providing services and care
Working where alcohol is served
Working late at night or in areas with high crime rates
As an employer, you have a duty of care to ensure that all staff are safe at work, no matter what their role is. Risk Assessments can help you to understand the specific dangers faced by your employees in different situations and enable you to put measures in place to mitigate any risks.
What are the risks of lone working?
Workplace hazards such as injury or violence can be an increased risk to lone workers because there is no one to intervene or call for help in an emergency.
How many lone workers are attacked every day?
There are no official figures for the US, however, the British Crime Survey estimates that as many as 150 lone workers are physically or verbally attacked every day in the UK alone. The size of the American workforce means this figure is likely to be even higher in the US. Unfortunately, lone workers are more vulnerable to violence and aggression due to the nature of their work or being seen as easier targets.
Not only can attacks result in physical injury, violence towards lone workers can result in stress, anxiety, fear and depression. This in turn can lead to sick leave, loss of confidence and low productivity and problems with staff retention.
How high risk is lone working?
Lone workers face similar types of risks to non lone working employees – however, as any risks are faced alone they are more vulnerable.
Lone working is considered a higher risk activity for a variety of reasons. Lone workers may be more susceptible to attack because they are seen as an easy target. If they suffer an accident or other emergency situation, there is no one with them to help or call for assistance. A lone employee may take on more physical work, such as lifting, than they are capable of because no one is there to help and then hurt themselves as a result.
What types of risks do lone workers face?
The main risks associated with lone working include people, environmental risks and ill health.
Unfortunately, lone workers are at higher risk of violence and aggression and are often regarded as easier targets. This could be down to the nature of their work, such as working with vulnerable members of the public and behind closed doors (social, housing and outreach workers for example) or working with large amounts of money (retail, bar, hospitality and security staff).
Lone workers are at risk from workplace hazards such as slips, trips and falls, heavy lifting and electrocution. Working alone poses a challenge in regard to receiving immediate assistance and medical support if an accident does occur.
Similarly, if a lone worker suffers from a medical emergency such as a heart attack or fainting, receiving immediate support and alerting emergency services could prove difficult without nearby colleagues, particularly if working remotely or out of sight and sound.
Risks of lone working in different environments
Different environments pose different sets of risks for lone working staff and in many industries the dangers faced by staff – especially violence – are increasing. Here we examine the risks posed in some common lone working roles.
Many lone workers visit clients in their homes, placing them at higher risk of violence, aggression and hostage situations, particularly if working with vulnerable individuals. Entering a client’s home comes with an element of the unknown. There could be aggressive animals present in the home, trip hazards, aggression and hostility from individuals within the property and potential alcohol and substance abuse.
In a study published by the BMJ journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 22% of domiciliary care workers reported at least one incident of verbal abuse by clients or their relatives in the previous 12 months. Heightened risk factors included cramped client living conditions, clients with dementia and limited mobility. Interestingly, workers with predictable working hours had a 26% lower risk of being verbally abused – indicating that workers who have changeable rotas are at an increased risk.
Other community workers such as social workers, community nurses and charity workers are also vulnerable to similar risks. This can be particularly true for those working in environments where drugs, alcohol and mental health issues could be involved.
Many community workers also drive between appointments and so are at risk of being involved in a road traffic accident whilst at work – especially those who drive at night. Many lone workers visit clients in their homes, placing them at higher risk of violence, aggression and hostage situations, particularly if working with vulnerable individuals. Entering a client’s home comes with an element of the unknown. There could be aggressive animals present in the home, trip hazards, aggression and hostility from individuals within the property and potential alcohol and substance abuse. Find out more
Lone workers in public facing roles can be at risk of violence and aggressive behaviour. Lone working retail staff can be seen as easy targets for robberies, while frustrated members of the public or clients can act aggressively towards staff in any situation.
The 2017/18 CSEW asserts that the majority of workplace violence (54%) is carried out by a stranger, with 28% of attacks conducted by a client or member of the public known through work.
Construction workers are one of the highest risk industries for injury or death at work.
Even if you have several employees on site, the size and noise levels could mean that some or all employees could be considered to be lone working. As there are many hazards present when working in construction, such as dangerous machinery and tools, electrocution and working at height, failure to quickly gain the attention of a colleague in an emergency could result in life changing or even fatal injuries.
In a study published by Security Magazine – Crimes at Night: Analyzing Police Incident Reports in Major Cities – violent crimes are most likely to occur after dark. Murder, rape, drink/drug driving, robbery and assault are all more likely to occur at night than during the day.
Along with the additional risk, the number of people working at night is also increasing.
With the number of employees who work at night increasing, including more women and older workers, it is more important than ever to consider the risks associated with working after dark.
Working alone at night can come with an increased risk of robberies and assault. Staff working alone in a shop or office may face the danger of armed robberies and theft from criminals targeting properties when they are quieter and less populated. Nurses and carers may face more anti-social behavior or drink and drug related incidents when working and driving at night.
Sadly, we frequently see news reports of assaults and threats being made against healthcare staff.
Medical staff most at risk include nurses, paramedics and mental health staff, yet everyone across the healthcare is at risk – particularly as staff shortages create high stress environments and increase the number of lone working employees. With a growing number of patients and lack of additional staff, there is a growing risk to staff who are often faced with anger and hostility when performing their duties to aid members of the public.
“Retail work is one of the highest risk jobs for workplace violence. Violence isn’t just hitting, fighting, and shooting. It can also be sexual harassment, rape, bullying, stealing, and verbal abuse. Jobs that require you to work alone at night, handle money, and sell alcohol, particularly in poorly lit areas, will increase your risk for workplace violence. Workplace violence is more common, such as convenience stores and gasoline stations.”
The reasons behind assaults within the property industry are wide-ranging and complex. Many jobs involve delivering bad news and working with clients facing a range of issues. Many incidents occur away from the public, and behind closed-doors, putting staff at increased risk and limiting the options for calling for help. Find out more
Risks of lone working for property and Real Estate Agents
Real Estate Agents are vulnerable to aggression and attack as their job involves entering properties alone with vendors and buyers on a daily basis. They are also some of the most well known lone workers as they have been subject to some high profile crimes. One of the most prominent lone worker safety charities, the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, was formed following the disappearance of Real Estate Agent Suzy Lamplugh during a property visit in the UK in 1986. In 2008, Lindsay Elizabeth Buziak, was murdered in Canada and another female Agent, Monique Baugh, was killed by a client in December 2019 in Minneapolis. Find out more
US Lone worker legislation
What is the lone worker legislation in the US?
Organizations in America must adhere to the Occupational Safety and Health Act (1970). The OSH Act covers most private sector employers and their workers, in addition to some public sector employers and workers in the 50 states and certain territories and jurisdictions under federal authority. These regulations are in place to ensure that all employees and members of the public are protected.
Who regulates lone worker legislation in the US?
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is a regulatory agency of the United States Department of Labor and was created to ensure safe and healthy working conditions for employees in the United States. As well as acting as a regulatory agency, OSHA helps employers understand and adhere to the health and safety regulations and provides a wealth of information and training opportunities.
What must the employer of a lone worker do?
Carry out a lone worker risk assessment
Risk assessments for lone working are a basic legal requirement and should be carried out for all employees. When carrying out a risk assessment for lone working staff, you must consider hazards related to the work being carried out, the people they come into contact with and the different environments they travel through and work in.
Following on from your risk assessment, you will need to produce a safety policy for your lone workers. A lone working safety 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 instructions on how to safely work alone.
For lone working staff, training is particularly important as they work in environments where there are no colleagues around to provide a helping hand or point out a mistake that could lead to an accident.
News stories regularly point out lack of training as a contributing or sole factor for serious workplace injuries and fatalities.
Training for lone workers is incredibly important for a business to implement as it can:
Prevent accidents caused by improper work practices or techniques
Prevent serious incidents of violence by defusing potentially violent situations
Prevent escalation/severity of an accident or incident by knowing how to respond
Help you meet your legal duty of care to lone working staff
Help you avoid the financial costs related to accidents and incidents
Implement a lone worker solution
Lone worker solutions are specialist products that are designed to monitor staff safety and give employees a quick way to signal for help in an emergency. They can help employers not only to meet their duty of care to staff, but to ensure staff also feel protected and cared for whilst at work.
StaySafe is an app based solution that is used by employers to protect their staff. It provides lone workers with a panic button and a range of alerts so they can summon help immediately – to their exact location – in an emergency.
We have written an easy to digest article to help you better understand OSHA and lone worker legislation in the US. You can read it here.
Who can work alone?
Legally, anyone can work alone as long as a risk assessment has found that it is safe to do so. Lone working is usually completely safe once extra procedures have been put in place to minimize the additional risk lone workers face.
However, there are some instances where lone working should not be permitted if the job is high risk. For example, operating machinery which requires more than one person, visiting clients where there are concerns about violence or other environments where aggression is common, such as betting shops.
Can someone with medical conditions work alone?
To determine whether someone with a medical condition can work alone, you will need to consider employee medical conditions as part of your risk assessment and ensure there are procedures in place to protect them.
Employers should seek medical advice for specific employees if necessary. You should consider both routine work and foreseeable emergencies that may impose additional physical and mental burdens on an individual.
Can an apprentice work alone?
An apprentice can 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 put in place measures to manage any dangers.
Can a 16-year-old work alone?
A 16-year-old can work alone if the organization 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 so you must ensure you refer to specific guidance if you employ under 18’s.
When is lone working not allowed?
Certain situations can put lone workers more at risk than others and in some circumstances, it may be better to not allow lone working at all. For example, some mental health care workers must work in pairs at all times when visiting certain patients as it has been deemed unsafe to go alone. It is down to you to ensure that you have undertaken a thorough risk assessment and if you cannot sufficiently mitigate the issues raised, then allowing lone working could put you in breach of your duty of care.
Supervising lone workers
Employers should ensure that they maintain regular contact with lone working employees and have a way to call for help in an uncomfortable or emergency situation. Lone working solutions, including apps and wearable technology can ensure that these requirements are met by providing lone working staff with a means to contact their employer, check in safely and raise the alarm in an emergency.
Lone worker risk assessment guide
Conducting risk assessments is an integral part of adhering to health and safety legislation and meeting your duty of care to lone workers.
Lone workers face a range of hazards and risks on a daily basis, that can differ from those based in a fixed or office environment.
What is a lone worker risk assessment?
A lone working risk assessment is a process of identifying and assessing risks associated with a job role carried out by a lone worker. When carrying out a risk assessment for lone working staff, you must consider hazards related to the work being carried out, the people they come into contact with and the different environments they travel and work in. The purpose of the assessment is to identify what needs to be done to control health and safety risks for your lone workers
What is a dynamic risk assessment?
A dynamic risk assessment is the process of identifying risks in the current environment. Unlike a traditional risk assessment, which is done in advance, a dynamic risk assessment is the practise of mentally observing, assessing and analysing an environment ‘on the spot’. This is an important skill that enables employees to make decisions regarding their own safety in any situation and one you should consider providing additional training on.
Following on from your risk assessment, you will need to produce a safety policy for your lone workers. A lone working safety policy is a guide that will set out your companies’ rules on working alone and help your employees to understand the risks they may face.
What is a lone worker safety policy?
Lone workers require their own policies and procedures to ensure they are protected from any specific risks and hazards. A lone worker policy as an official written document that covers the risks faced by lone working staff and the responsibilities of both the employer and employee in ensuring that lone workers can work safely.
It includes your lone worker risk assessment and practical instructions, as well as any details on any lone worker solutions in place and how to use them.
Tips for creating your lone working policy
Creating your lone working policy is an important task and we understand that sometimes it can seem daunting. Getting your lone workers on board is perhaps the greatest challenge which is why we have put together these tips for creating your lone worker safety policy.
Keep it simple
To ensure your lone workers understand and follow your policy, you should keep it as concise and simple as possible. Use language they would understand and clearly outline what is expected of them. Clarity is important, so consider the layout of the document as well as the language used.
It is important that your policy is regularly updated whenever your risk assessment is reassessed or whenever you introduce new lone working policies, such as a new training course or implementing a lone worker solution.
Involve your lone workers
In order to get your lone workers on board with your new lone worker policy, you should consider involving them in all aspects of the process. Ask them to help you identify risks and suggest ways they would feel safer.
Once your lone working policy has been developed, consider holding a workshop or health and safety day where you can openly discuss why you have developed the policy and what has been put in place. Be sure to focus on a clear safety message and the benefits to your lone workers.
While you want to encourage adoption through focusing on employee safety and wellbeing, you also need your employees to understand that the policies and procedures you have implemented are a requirement and non-optional.
Be direct in the language you use in your lone working policy. Avoid using words such as ‘you should’ or ‘you could’ which suggests a choice. Use ‘You must’ or ‘It is a requirement that…’
Your lone working policy will be developed as an extension to your lone working risk assessment. The policy document will include your risk assessment and the lone worker procedures you have put in place to reduce or eliminate the identified risks.
Lone working procedures
A lone worker procedure refers to a series of steps that need to be followed in order to work alone safely. You should document your lone worker procedures in your lone worker policy document.
You may find it useful to write a number of procedures suitable for different groups of employees so that they are able to digest the correct information easily.
Lone working procedure examples:
How the lone worker should check-in with their supervisor and how often
How and when to use any lone worker solutions, such as apps or devices
What to do in an emergency including evacuation procedures and who to contact
What to do when a client shows signs of aggression
What to do when unauthorized visitors attempt to enter a building where the employee is working alone
This is not an exhaustive list and there are many more scenarios that will require a lone worker procedure. However, implementing as many procedures as is necessary can save lives. This is why it is important that your procedures are made compulsory and you avoid any language that could suggest a choice such as ‘you should’ or ‘you could’.
When first introducing new work alone procedures, it is important to provide briefing and training for your lone workers so that they know exactly what is expected of them. A written step-by-step guide should be distributed for them to refer to and it may be helpful to produce a safety checklist for your lone workers to follow until procedures become routine.
Free lone worker policy template and guide
Need some help getting started? We have created an in depth lone working policy guide and document template for you to use in your business
OSHA states that whenever an employee is working alone, such as in a confined space or isolated location, the employer shall account for each employee:
Throughout each work shift at regular intervals appropriate to the job assignment to ensure the employee’s safety and health; and
At the end of the job assignment or at the end of the workshift, whichever occurs first.
The employer shall account for each employee by sight or verbal communication.
Many companies choose to implement a specialist lone worker safety solution to ensure they meet this requirement.
Types of lone worker solutions
Lone worker safety isn’t a new concept for health and safety professionals and the types of protection that businesses can offer staff are comprehensive. Historically companies have relied on diaries and buddy systems to keep in touch with lone workers. However, as with many industries, advancing technology is leading the way with regards to the solutions employers are choosing, leaving these manual methods outdated.
According to a 2019 Berg Insights Report, 20% of all lone worker solutions in Europe, and more than 40% in North America, are now app based. This number is predicted to grow; worker safety devices based on GPS and cellular technology in Europe are expected to reach 1.1 million users at the end of 2022.
Typically lone worker apps consist of the app itself, which has a range of functions including panic button, GPS location, timed sessions, man down alerts and check-ins. Employee activity and the location of staff whilst at work is monitored via a cloud based hub where employers can respond to any alerts.
Lone worker apps are particularly suitable in the current climate because of how well they lend themselves to being trialled, rolled out and utilized by staff remotely. You now no longer need to be in the same room, or even the same country, to be able to roll out and use a product successfully. Apps can be downloaded directly onto employees’ cells without the need for any additional equipment being delivered. At a time when supply chains are likely to be majorly disrupted, this is a big advantage. Monitors can be trained to use a system remotely via WebEx and staff protected quickly. Alternatively, the monitoring of staff can be outsourced to professional monitoring firms who will handle any alerts.
StaySafe was at the forefront of the safety app revolution, having first entered the market in 2011. Now used by tens of thousands of employees across five continents, our easy-to-use app and monitoring hub allows lone workers to raise an alert in a range of situations while providing monitors with the accurate locations of employees while they work alone.
Why do businesses choose StaySafe?
Organizations who choose StaySafe do so because it is so easy and simple to use, with no capital outlay – most employees already use a cellphone everyday. It is scalable for use in any business, in any industry – we work with Ericsson to Oxfam and everyone in between. We also provide a full end-to-end service – including innovative in app training – to ensure you and your staff get the most from the app and are protected everyday.