Lone Worker safety legislation and policy for the United States of America
Find out more about the law on lone working, the main hazards and risks of working alone and offer advice on solutions for your business in the US.
Fast track to key topics by clicking on the orange buttons below.
For many organizations, lone working increases productivity, flexibility and allows businesses to operate on a wider scale. However, despite this, there are a number of risks that pose a threat to lone working staff. Lone workers do not have access to immediate help should an accident occur which often makes their roles more dangerous than office-based jobs. If a lone worker suffers a fall, is attacked by an assailant or has a medical accident and is unable to call for help, they could be seriously harmed.
So how can you ensure that your lone working staff are protected whilst at work? In this article, we’ll discuss the main risks and hazards associated with lone working, and take a look at different scenarios 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 is for all or part of their working day.
Is it legal to work alone?Working alone is completely legal and in most cases it is safe to do so. However, a risk assessment should be carried out on lone working activities so employers can assess and mitigate any potential dangers to their staff.
What are the laws on lone working in the US?
What is OSHA?The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is an agency of the United States Department of Labor and was created to ensure safe and healthy working conditions for individuals living in the United States. OSHA standards are rules that describe the methods that employers must use to protect their employees from hazards. There are OSHA standards for construction work, maritime operations, and general industry, which is the set of rules that applies to most worksites.
What is the law on lone working?
Health and safety legislation differs across states and many do not have specific policies for lone working.
Under OSHA’s guidelines companies who employ lone workers must 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
Alongside this, employers should also implement their own regulations to help ensure the safety of their lone workers.
These could include:
- 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, instructions, lone worker training and supervision where appropriate
- Regularly reviewing and improving upon lone worker risk assessments and policies
The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries have also introduced a guide “Working Alone Safely: Controlling the Risks of Solitary Work.” The guide contains recommendations, such as, supervisors periodically visiting or observing lone workers and regular communication throughout a shift or period when someone is working alone. The guide also recommends the use of automatic warning devices and supervisors checking in with staff once the period of lone work is over.
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.
What are the main risks and hazards that lone workers face?Certain environments increase the risk to employees, particularly those in which customers may 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 and hostile behaviour. Utility workers often operate in rural areas, underground or with dangerous machinery and face environmental risks. If an accident were to happen, they may not be able to call for help. Similarly, staff who travel to different locations as part of their role may not be able to notify managers should an accident happen whilst on the road. 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 how can you assess the risk to your lone workers and make the judgement call?
Lone worker risk assessments
The first and most important step in 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, it may be safe to allow your employees to work alone, following the implementation of a 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 sets out your companies’ rules on working alone and helps your employees to understand the risks of their role. It also provides your staff with practical advice and instruction on how to safely carry out their roles and what procedures to follow should an incident occur.
A regular review of both your risk assessments and lone worker policy will help you identify whether your lone workers are safe. You may also wish to carry out inspections to ensure safe work practices are being followed.