Around 8 million people in the UK are classified as lone workers. These employees are exposed to a range of risks, all of which need to be assessed and mitigated against – so far as it is reasonably practicable to do so. Employers have a Duty of Care to every one of their employees and you’ll need to take additional precautions if you’re to fulfil this obligation to lone workers. Here, we provide an extensive lone worker risk assessment checklist to help ensure you’re doing everything you can.
What is a Lone Worker?
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) defines a lone worker as
‘those who work by themselves without close or direct supervision.’
Importantly, the lone worker category encompasses more than those employees who always work in isolation, away from colleagues and the general public. It also includes employees who spend some time working alone or unsupervised by a manager.
For instance, an employee could be surrounded by customers all day but is still considered a lone worker if they’re not operating together with colleagues or under supervision. Likewise an employee who spends two days in the office and three out in the field is also a lone worker.
When it comes to lone working, there are also several grey areas to consider. Many employees who work in small teams are exposed to the same risks faced by lone workers. For instance, waste collectors often have to deal with physical and verbal threats, injury and altercations with the public. The fact that they work in a small team doesn’t mean they’re necessarily safe.
What is a Lone Worker risk assessment?
A lone worker risk assessment is a process by which you identify risks to employees and establish the ways you’re going to mitigate those risks. Assessments are tailored to specific roles, as many positions will carry unique risks that aren’t covered by a general, catch-all assessment. Typically, they’ll look at the equipment employees use, the environments they work in and the people they interact with. However, there’s an increasing focus on the emotional and mental wellbeing of workers, too.
Our Lone Worker Risk Assessment Checklist
1. Is the task right for a Lone Worker?
Not all tasks are suitable for lone workers. Some work simply requires more than one employee to carry out safely, securely and to the required standard. Establishing whether a task can be carried out by a single employee is the first step in any risk assessment.
There are several considerations to take into account.
Consult with existing lone workers as to the nature of their role and whether they feel as though they receive adequate protection and support
Examine all situations in which employees work alone or in small teams – even if these situations only constitute a small part of the employees’ overall work
Look to canvas and consult with staff to see whether there are activities that have been missed but should be classified as lone worker tasks
Just because a task has historically been carried out by a lone worker does not mean it’s necessarily suitable for a single individual to perform. To ensure lone worker safety, employers should also reassess all existing lone worker arrangements
2. Lone Worker hazards
Having identified lone workers, managers must carry out thorough risk assessments and implement appropriate safety policies. In most cases, the risks to a lone worker are very different from the risks faced by those working under supervision or in numbers. This needs to be taken into consideration when carrying out the risk assessment.
Employers must be aware of a variety of factors that are unique to the circumstances faced by lone workers. These include;
Equipment – is there any equipment that a single employee may have difficulty handling or operating on their own? Would the lone worker be in danger if equipment failed?
Emergency exit – in case of an emergency (eg. fire), does the lone worker have a suitable emergency exit? Will the emergency exit and protocols be affected by the employee working independently (if the rest of the premises is locked up, for example)?
Hazardous materials – is the lone worker interacting with any hazardous substances, such as chemicals or highly flammable materials? If so, how does this affect their safety?
Personal safety concerns – is the lone worker put into any potentially dangerous situations by which their safety is threatened by the actions of other individuals who may exhibit coercive, violent or aggressive behaviour?
Communication – is there a clear channel of communication for lone workers looking to raise concerns or escalate problems? If the employee does not speak English as a first language, are they comfortable in communicating potential issues?
While lone worker safety concerns will differ from job to job and between industries, those listed above provide a basic framework from which a comprehensive risk assessment can be designed. Throughout this process, employers must work and consult closely with employees to ensure they fully understand the conditions particular to each role.
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3. Providing adequate training
Training plays an important role in preparing employees for independent and unsupervised work. Whereas individuals operating in a shared workspace can look to more experienced team members for advice and assistance, lone workers do not have this privilege. Consequently, they need to be made aware of potential risks and given the tools and expertise to deal with them confidently.
For lone workers, this will likely include the following;
De-escalation training – how to de-escalate conflict with members of the public and act in a way that best protects their safety
First aid training – employees who work in potentially dangerous environments can be provided with first aid training to ensure that adequate medical assistance can be administered immediately if required
Self-defence training – though not always necessary, some lone workers may feel more secure if offered self-defence training. This can also be a good way to bring lone workers together and provide much-need team-time
Context-specific procedures – training should be provided for all context-specific procedures that lone workers are expected to understand. These are procedures that are unique to the workplace in which the employee operates. For instance, a petrol station attendant should be trained on what to do in the event of a fire.
4. Understanding lone worker responsibilities
Additional training can assist lone workers by providing them with solutions to common problems, giving them the confidence to respond to issues in a calm and cool-headed manner, and establishing clear boundaries.
This last point is particularly important, as an employer should always define the tasks a lone worker can and cannot perform. This will drastically reduce the likelihood of a workplace incident by eliminating the grey areas in which many accidents occur and making it clear as to when a lone worker should request guidance or assistance.
Consequently, all risk assessments should include;
Where a specific employee’s responsibilities begin and end
When an employee should escalate a concern or issue to a supervisor, who that supervisor is and how they can be contacted
What the procedures are for reporting an incident or seeking guidance.
5. Supervision and monitoring
In situations where there is deemed to be some risk to a lone worker, measures should be taken to ensure they are supervised or monitored. This can take many forms but should be directly proportional to the level of risk faced by a lone worker. The higher the risk, the closer the supervision or monitoring needs to be.
While supervision generally involves the presence of an experienced and knowledgeable employee to oversee the work, monitoring can mean a variety of things. In many cases, it will mean integrating new technologies into the workplace. There are numerous examples of lone worker solutions being deployed in contemporary workplaces.
Following an increase in abusive and threatening behaviour towards recycling workers on their rounds, Oxfordshire County Council introduced body cameras for their workers. Not only does this ensure all incidents are recorded so action may be taken at a later date, but the cameras also act as a powerful deterrent against such behaviour
Apps and digital systems, like Inform’s lone worker solutions, provide lone workers with a 24/7 monitoring system that offers support in several different ways. By introducing such technology, lone workers can access immediate assistance if there is an incident, record their movements, schedule safety calls, and report problems
Though technology has an important role to play in ensuring lone worker safety, monitoring safety levels, and raising the alarm, human actors do too. A monitoring system could also involve regular check-ups on a lone worker by a supervisor, routine communications with a supervisor, or a requirement that lone workers ‘check-out’ at the end of their shift or upon returning home
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6. Emergency procedures
Lone workers should be made aware of all the established emergency procedures relevant to their role. This means that your risk assessment will need to examine the emergency situations a lone worker could find themselves in and how adequate protections and procedures can be put in place to safeguard employees.
Detailed information should be provided as to what to do in case of;
Steps should also be taken to ensure that any necessary safety equipment is accessible and regularly tested. Employers have a legal Duty of Care towards their employees, and rigorous safety measures and procedures go some way to fulfilling that obligation.
7. Lone working at home
Over the last year, an unprecedented number of employees have been forced to work from home. For many, this was a welcome change. For others, it’s been a challenging and stressful period. Though working from home should be less risky than many other types of solo work, it’s still necessary to carry out a comprehensive risk assessment.
This will focus on the following areas;
Work environment – Employers should assess the suitability of the work area. Is it spacious enough? Is there sufficient light and ventilation? Are there any clear hazards, such as loose cabling?
Workstation – As well as the general work area, the employee’s workstation must be conducive to safe work practices. This includes having a suitable chair and an adequate computer monitor, though most individuals will have different requirements
Employer equipment – Employers are responsible for any of the equipment they provide employees. They must inspect and maintain it, while also ensuring the employee has access to tools that guarantee safe use, eg. antivirus software on a work computer
Fire – All homeworkers should have a functional smoke detector in the home and a clear escape plan/route in case of a fire
When it comes to home workers, stress and mental health are also big considerations. We’ll touch on your responsibilities as an employer below.
8. Stress and mental health
Lone workers aren’t just at risk from other people, machinery, or equipment – operating alone can also have an impact on stress levels and an individual’s mental health.
Being isolated from colleagues and taking on greater responsibility can result in work-related distress that affects an employee’s personal and professional life. Statistics show that around 64% of lone workers suffer from psychological distress (BOHRF), a marked increase on the figure for employees who work in a team environment.
With this in mind, employers should incorporate personal welfare checks into any risk assessment. This can be achieved in the following ways.
Ensuring you understand the challenges lone workers face by talking with them and allowing them to air concerns or frustrations
Scheduling regular check-ins with lone workers
Looking at ways to better integrate lone workers into a larger team, eg. by bringing them into the office more often, planning social events, or encouraging team activities
Providing the individual responsible for lone workers with guidance on what to look out for in regards to lone worker stress and mental health
For more information on this often-overlooked element of lone worker safety, you can check out our article on lone worker welfare.
9. Special concerns
Not all lone workers are alike. As well as operating in different environments and facing distinct challenges, there may be personal characteristics that require additional consideration. Employees who are particularly young, inexperienced, pregnant or disabled may face challenges that other lone workers do not. Your risk assessment should consider all of these factors.
Completing the Lone Worker risk assessment checklist
A risk assessment is a comprehensive document that serves three key functions;
Allows you to identify risks and implement appropriate safety procedures and processes
Ensures you’re able to provide employees with accurate information as to the risks they face and how to mitigate them
Demonstrates that you’ve fulfilled your obligations as the individual/organisation responsible for lone worker safety
Consequently, the conclusions you draw from your risk assessment should be condensed into a single document that provides a detailed account of what you assessed and any measures you’ve taken. When compiling this document, it may be helpful to keep the following advice in mind.
Ensure the report is written in clear and concise English. Avoid technical jargon wherever possible and make the language accessible to all
Digitalise the report and ensure it’s available and easy to find for all employees
Use a simple system to rank the level of risk associated with certain tasks. For instance, a traffic light system will add a visual element to the assessment that makes it easier to use
Provide information as to why the risk assessment has been carried out and explain the repercussions (for both employer and employee) of not following the assessment’s findings or suggestions
What should be included in a lone working policy?
Once your risk assessment is complete, it’s good practice to draw up a more general lone worker policy. While not a legal requirement, a lone worker policy is a practical and effective means of communicating good lone worker practices to staff. It also demonstrates that you’re taking your Duty of Care seriously.
A comprehensive lone working policy will likely include the following;
Risks – The policy should include examples of specific situations lone workers may face, what risks are involved and how to deal with them
Justification – An explanation of the importance of the lone worker policy and why it’s a necessary tool for safeguarding employees’ wellbeing
Responsibilities – Your policy should also define what responsibilities each employee has. For instance, lone workers have a responsibility not to put themselves in dangerous situations. Managers have a responsibility to carry out a risk assessment and act on the findings etc.
Reporting – A policy will contain details on how health and safety issues and incidents can be escalated and who employees should contact when doing so
Support – Employees must also be informed about the different ways they can access support. This may mean including information for union reps, charities or any other applicable, work-related organisations
While the exact measures taken to protect lone workers will vary from role to role, it’s vital that employers go the extra mile and carefully consider safety measures above and beyond those expected in a shared workspace.
This means consulting with those currently in the role, completing our lone worker risk assessment checklist and understanding the specific circumstances in which each lone worker operates. Solutions to safety issues will differ drastically depending on the business, but adequate safety, supervisory and monitoring measures must be implemented if an employer is to meet its legal obligation to employees.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in October 2019 but has since been completely updated so it stays relevant, accurate and valuable to our readers.
Our expert team have been providing lone worker solutions for over 25 years. Call us on 01344 595800 or drop us a line to find out more.
By Bob Coppack|2022-04-29T16:04:33+00:00March 24th, 2021|