Lone Worker Protection series

Module 1: What is a lone worker?

This module will help you understand whether you have any lone workers on your workforce.

You’ll learn how the Health and Safety Executive defines lone working, and hear some examples of who might be classed as a lone worker on your existing workforce.

    Who are your lone workers? 

    A lone worker is exactly who you’d think they would be, but with one very important addition from the Health and Safety Executive.

    The HSE defines a lone worker as someone who performs tasks in isolation, without close or direct supervision. 

    By that definition, a team member of yours might not really be completely on their own, throughout their working day or shift, but, there might be times when they are away from others performing a specific task.

    It’s vital that you think about these people on your workforce, because they might not even be doing a job that you would typically think of as hazardous, but because they are going it alone, they are naturally at a greater risk.

    Examples of lone workers

    Let’s say you have someone who works in a shop, and you’ve carried out a risk assessment to say that there is a likelihood that they will face aggression in their job. They are more likely to face aggression if they are alone, as they are an easier target than if they were working with others.

    Another example, is someone who likes to work late in the office, or locks up. Slips, trips and falls are one of the most common types of injury reported by the HSE year on year. The risk of someone falling down the stairs isn’t greater because they’re on their own, but it could lead to more serious injury if they don’t get the help they need right away because no one was there to call for help.

    Personal safety is also a common concern for people who go into the homes of others for a meeting or appointment. They might be housing officers, gas engineers or hairstylists.  

    When you take away the “lone worker” label and actually really think about who performs tasks in isolation at any one time, you begin to realise that there are probably far more lone workers on your workforce than you first thought, even if they are just your team members who work from their own home alone. 

    Questions to ask for a better understanding of your lone workers

    Identifying that you have lone workers is the first step to protecting them against the potential risks. Have a think about your staff and ask yourself these questions:

    • Who works in isolation without anyone close by? This might even be in the same building, but if they’re on their own, and no one is nearby to help if they’re in trouble, then there’s a greater risk of them not getting medical attention when they need it. 
    • What kind of situations do they work alone? Is it part of their job, if, for example, they’re a delivery driver,  property surveyor or maintenance worker? Or is it unrelated to the work they do, for instance, someone who works remotely, or likes to get into work early to have the office to themselves for an hour or two every morning. Don’t dismiss those who don’t seem to work in a high-risk environment. Without an awareness of everyday hazards, like slips and trips, people can become complacent, which is dangerous in itself.
    • Do you have more than one type of lone worker in your organisation? Like someone who works on the helpdesk on a Saturday versus your drivers. It’ll be important when we come to building your risk assessment that you factor in the risk to both. 
    • How often do you have people working in isolation? Is it once every now and then, or daily? 

    By answering these questions, you can start to build a picture of the lone workers in your workforce, and use this later to understand the risks they face, and how to protect against them. 

    Lone Worker Protection series

    Next module: The law and lone working