Lone workers are ‘those who work by themselves without close or direct supervision’ (Health and Safety Executive). They include:
- staff who undertake domiciliary care visits alone;
- staff who work alone in parts of a building where other staff are not present;
- receptionists and other administrative staff;
- those who attend external meetings and other work related business that requires them to be away from the service on their own;
- those working on their own outside of usual hours in buildings which are unoccupied at that time, including cleaning and security staff.
Many hazards lone workers face are similar to those of other workers, but the risks may be greater because the worker is on their own. There is no specific law dealing with lone working, however all health and safety legislation applies equally to lone workers.
Employers have a duty to assess the risks to their employees who are lone working and take steps to avoid or control risks where necessary.
This must include:
- involving workers when considering potential risks and how to control them;
- acting to ensure risks are removed where possible, or control measures put in place;
- training and supervision; and
- reviewing risk assessments.
It may also include:
- understanding some tasks may be too difficult or dangerous to be carried out by an unaccompanied worker;
- when a risk assessment shows it is not possible for the work to be conducted safely by a lone worker, addressing that risk by making arrangements to provide help or support.
It is essential that lone worker contact arrangements are followed correctly. Many situations arise unnecessarily because procedures are not adhered to, and especially when staff members forget to inform the relevant person when they have finished their visit or shift. This often results in needless internal and partner agency staff time and expense being required.
2. Specific Lone Working Hazards
When carrying out lone working assessments, the following issues should be considered for staff.
- Does the location or surrounding area present a particular risk?
- Is there safe access and exit/s?
- Can any required and supplied equipment be safely operated by one person?
- Are there any chemicals or hazardous substances that may pose a risk?
- Does the work involve lifting objects that are too large or heavy for one person?
- Is there a risk from environmental conditions, for example unsafe premises, including derelict buildings or workplace layouts?
- Do specific work activities pose a risk, for example: home visits and working at night, particularly where there are contentious issues?
- Do any of the adults or their families present a risk and/or have a history of violence?
- Are young, pregnant or disabled, inexperienced workers particularly at risk if they work alone?
- Are there suitable arrangements in place to ensure effective communication, for example: contact procedures at the beginning and end of a home visit, buddy systems or in emergencies?
3. Monitoring Lone Worker Movements
3.1 Informing managers or colleagues of whereabouts
Where staff are working away from the service base, they are responsible for ensuring someone else (a manager or appropriate colleague) knows:
- the address of where they will be working;
- details of the people they will be working with and / or visiting;
- telephone numbers if known;
- expected arrival and departure times;
- the worker’s vehicle details, including registration number, make, model and colour.
When a member of staff leaves the service for a home visit, for example, they must inform an allocated colleague of details of the visit and who will check that the lone worker arrives back at service or has safely completed their duties.
This information should be recorded in a written log or diary of visits. This information must be kept confidential. Where details are left on a whiteboard or similar, it must be in a secure office to which anyone other than service staff do not have access and cannot be seen from outside.
Where details have been left on a whiteboard, they must not be erased until it has been confirmed that the lone worker has returned safely or completed their duties for the day.
3.2 Maintaining contact with lone workers
The lone worker should inform their manager / colleague if they are delayed or have to cancel an
Where a lone worker fails to attend a visit or a meeting at the agreed time or makes contact as agreed, the manager should use the information provided as in Section 3.1, Informing managers or colleagues of whereabouts, to locate them. This includes ascertaining as to whether they turned up for any previous appointments that day. If no contact can be made with the worker via phone, where possible the manager (with a colleague, not alone) should visit the place from where they have not reported. Where there are concerns that the worker may be at risk, the manager or colleague should immediately inform the police (see 3.4 Escalation process).
Where the police become involved, they should be given access to all necessary information, as it may help trace the lone worker and help assess any risks they may be facing.
3.3 Code words
Code words can be used to alert a colleague that a staff member is concerned about their
safety. Code words are usually phrased so that they would not appear to be out of context to the situation, and therefore would not alert anyone else apart from the colleague who is being alerted. They must be pre-agreed and each team member will understand action they should take to immediately assist their colleague, in a manner that will not escalate the situation.
3.4 Escalation process
All staff in the service must know who to contact if a lone worker cannot be contacted or if they fail to contact the relevant individual within agreed or reasonable timescales. The escalation process should include risk assessment and identification of contact points at appropriate stages, including a line manager, senior manager and, ultimately, the police.
Any individual nominated at any point in the escalation process should be fully aware of their role and its responsibilities and should not delay escalating concerns once a specified period of time where contact has not been made has elapsed.
Recording of risk is a key part of managing cases where there is a high element of risk. Risk assessments should be recorded in line with the framework above, on the adult’s file.
4. Management of Lone Workers
Managers should identify all staff who work alone, without interaction with other workers or without close or direct supervision and ensure that they are trained in and adhere to safe working practices, including contact procedures.
Managers need to investigate the potential hazards faced by lone workers and assess the risks involved to the member of staff and any other person who may be affected by their work.
Conducting risk assessments supports the manager in deciding the right level of supervision.
Managers must ensure lone working hazards are identified and minimised, as far as possible.
Where problems are identified, the manager must ensure that remedial action is taken and the situation regularly monitored. Decisions made by managers should be clearly documented on file.
Managers have a responsibility to ensure that their staff receive appropriate training, supervision and support in relation to working alone (see Section 5, Working Practices, below).
5. Working Practices
Practices which are commonly used to manage the personal safety of lone workers include:
- conducting risk assessments;
- implementing a lone worker policy and procedure;
- implementation of a buddy system;
- lone worker training;
- conflict management training;
- provision and use of monitoring systems and other equipment (alarms, trackers, mobile phones).