Lone Working: Everything You Need to Know

HR Management
Rea Regan November 8, 2021 11 min read

Looking to keep your lone workers safe, protected, and engaged? Then you need to follow this ultimate guide to ensure lone worker safety at your company.

Lone worker working from home

Quick Guide

    It’s not easy being a frontline worker, and it’s even more difficult when you’re a lone worker. 

    What is a Lone Worker? 

    Well, it’s just as it sounds. It’s somebody who does their job out in the world without any co-workers or supervisors around to help them. They’re very much on their own and often performing manual labour, which is already a challenge. 

    It’s up to the employer or lone workers to ensure they are safe and protected while on the job. This starts with having a clear understanding of the challenges, needs, and precautions of employees who are spending part or all of their time working alone. 

    Needless to say, this is just as difficult as it is vital, which is why we wanted to share everything that business owners and managers need to know about lone working.

    Defining a Lone Worker

    What is a lone worker?  Well, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) offers a simple definition of a lone worker; any employee that works alone without close or direct supervision. 

    However, things aren’t always that simple in real life. 

    Perhaps a better definition of what is a lone worker would be any worker who is completely isolated and alone while often engaging in dangerous work or in a hazardous location. 

    However, it’s becoming important to consider a broader definition of a lone worker, which is why remote employees who work from home now meet the standards. 

    A lone worker on their laptop while working at home
    Photo by Vlada Karpovich from Pexels

    In other words, any worker who is currently out of sight or sound from any other person should be considered a lone worker. This can include someone who is left alone while others take a break, someone who is working late after everyone else has left, or someone who’s in a different part of the building or worksite that’s removed from anyone else. 

    All of these situations and more fit the definition of a lone worker.

    Common Lone Worker Jobs

    While there are lone workers in every industry, it’s worth noting some of the industries where they are more common. 

    For example:

    • Anybody who works out in the field performing maintenance or repairs without a partner can be considered a lone worker. 
    • Estate agents who travel from house to house are lone workers when they’re not physically around their clients. 
    • People who work as security guards, late-night cleaners, or shop workers who often spend long periods working without anyone in sight also fall into the category of lone workers. 
    • Even engineers or construction workers will sometimes spend long periods working without anyone within shouting distance. 

    Finally, as mentioned, someone working remotely from their home can now be considered a lone worker regardless of their employer.

    Risks for Lone Workers

    Now that we have an idea of what a lone worker is, the next step is looking at some of the risks they face. 

    Of course, the nature of their work will have an impact on the specific risks lone workers face, but there are some universal risks. 

    For starters, lone workers risk a lack of proper emergency response because nobody is around them. If someone experiences a work-related injury or a medical emergency like a heart attack, nobody is around to help that lone worker. 

    That relates directly to another risk, which is a lack of supervision, especially in unsafe environments. Lone workers have nobody to ask for help or advice if they come across a question or a bit of uncertainty in an unpredictable environment. This can increase the chances of an accident or injury occurring

    With more traditional forms of lone workers, it’s possible to slip and fall or be hit by a heavy object with nobody around to call for assistance or offer first aid.

    Lone worker receiving virtual training
    Photo by LinkedIn Sales Solutions on Unsplash

    It’s also worth mentioning some of the less tangible and obvious risks of working alone, specifically stress. It can be somewhat unnatural for a person to spend long periods isolated from others, especially if they’re not accustomed to it. Given some of the risks, it can be unnerving and stressful for some people, potentially putting their mental health at risk just as much as their physical well-being.

    It’s vital that you implement workplace training to help your lone workers!

    Threat of Violence

    When discussing lone working, the threat of violence deserves special mention. Lone workers who go out into the world without a partner or another co-worker nearby can sometimes face violence or acts of aggression from the general public. This is frequently seen in occupations like security guards, paramedics, and social workers, but also innocuous professions like postal workers or estate agents can face the threat of violence.

    According to HSE, workers in protective service occupations such as police officers face the highest risk of assaults and threats while working, at 11.4% – 8 times the average risk of 1.4%. However, lone workers who work late at night or in isolated areas also face the threat of violence. 

    Employees who provide customer service or care can also be at a greater risk of violence when working alone.

    How to Assess the Risk

    The best thing any employer can do for lone workers is to assess the risk those workers face before they begin their job and continue to do so regularly once work has started. It’s important to assess the risk involved for that particular employee while considering what is gained by having them work alone. Is it worth the risk that the employee is assuming, and is there an alternative to that person working alone? These are the types of questions that should be asked following a risk assessment.

    Duration of Time

    The assessment should start with the amount of time that a person will fit the definition of a lone worker. 

    • Exactly how long are they being asked to work alone? 
    • Is it for the full duration of their shift? 
    • Is it a reasonable length of time for a person to be alone? 
    • Are they working alone during the day or at night? 

    This last question is particularly important for someone working outside and interacting with the general public.

    Communication

    The next risk factor to consider is communication

    • How urgent is it for this employee to be able to see or hear another worker? 
    • Is there a way for this person to easily communicate with someone else in case of an emergency? 
    • How frequently should this lone worker be asked to check in with a supervisor? 
    • Perhaps most importantly, what forms of communication are available? 
    • Does this person have a phone or walkie-talkie that’s always on their person, or is their only method of communication in their vehicle that they sometimes leave?

    Location 

    Location is another important factor for lone workers. Just how isolated will the person be? 

    For instance, working in a confined space that’s just down the hall from other workers fits the definition of a lone worker but isn’t as isolated as someone travelling to work in a rural area. 

    • Does the person need a vehicle to get to the worksite? 
    • At the worksite, what is the closest source of food, water, and medical attention? 

    Also, if a vehicle is needed, what other risks may appear if the vehicle unexpectedly breaks down?

    Nature of Work

    Of course, the nature of the work will also play an important role in the risk assessment. Are there specific tools or machinery involved that add to the safety risk? Is there a risk of extreme temperatures? Could the employee suffer from fatigue while working alone? Is the person exchanging money or working with any objects of high value? Even if this person wasn’t working alone, what workplace hazards would exist?

    The Employee

    Finally, it’s critical to think about the individual worker who is being asked to work alone. Does this employee have any medical conditions that make it more dangerous for them to work alone? Are they more vulnerable to a medical emergency or have a history of mental health struggles? 

    Also, does this employee have the skills and training to address some of the potential problems that could pop up? This can include a vehicle breaking down, applying first aid, or repairing an essential piece of equipment.

    Look at how you can develop leaders who are working remotely.

    How to Stay Safe

    Even after a proper risk assessment has been performed, there is still a lot that employers can do to help keep their lone workers as safe as possible. 

    It starts with doing everything you would for any other employee. Specifically, provide them with the proper equipment they’ll need for the job they’re performing. No employee should be asked to work in any capacity if they haven’t been given the right equipment.

    Don’t forget that workplace training can lower risk.

    It’s also a good idea for employers to have a record of what employees meet the lone worker definition and be aware of all times when an employee is working alone. They should also actively seek the input of those employees who are required to work alone. They need to report any accidents or near misses that put their health and safety at risk. If they don’t feel safe working alone or have an idea for how the situation can be improved, consider what they have to say and respond accordingly. 

    Caution sign relevant for lone workers
    Photo by Goh Rhy Yan on Unsplash

    Ultimately, the most important thing is for lone workers to feel comfortable with the job they’re being asked to perform while on their own.

    Training and Monitoring

    Finally, the most important part of lone working is making sure employees are properly trained and monitored. (The same goes for construction toolbox talks common in the industry.)

    Lone working is different from other types of work, and so employees need special training to cover all of the potential situations that can come up while working alone. Give them training so that they know how to respond to an accident, emergency, or the threat of violence. 

    At the same time, make sure there is a supervisor who is maintaining communication with a lone worker. There should be regularly scheduled check-ins while lone working so that the supervisor can alert authorities if the lone worker doesn’t respond at the scheduled time. 

    Even if a worker is alone and isolated, it’s always critical to maintain some form of contact with them and assume that something has gone wrong if you can’t get a hold of them when you’re supposed to. This is the most fundamental aspect of lone working and the best way to ensure everyone’s safety.

    Digital Tools Keep You Connected & Trained

    Considering lone workers work alone, it’s vital that you are able to stay in touch in real-time. Emails and lengthy WhatsApp chats aren’t going to cut it. You need modern and secure mobile apps, like Connecteam.

    Connecteam is one of the only leading employee management apps that has a full suite of features to keep you connected with your lone workers. 

    First, let’s look at the communication features:

    employee communication app
    • 1:1 or group chat 
    • Surveys – start from scratch or use templates
    • Live polls and a suggestion box 
    • A social feed
    • Pre-scheduled updates 
    • Automated follow-ups
    • In-app employee directory so they know who to contact in case of an emergency
    • Data dashboard so you know who read your messages, and who didn’t

    And now, let’s break down the training capabilities:

    • Create courses and include PDF files, media, and links to YouTube, Dropbox, Google Drive or your company website
    • Share quizzes to ensure competency 
    • Refer lone workers to the library where all materials are stored – employee handbook, stress tips, slip and fall guides, and more 
    • Easy search capabilities

    In addition, Connecteam offers countless more relevant features:

    • GPS time tracking with breadcrumbs so you know where they are all the time, in case something happens
    • Digital checklists, reports and forms that they can file at any time – it’s sent to the supervisor or manager for immediate review and action – like an incident report or expense reimbursement
    • Share quick one-off tasks (like for safety training)
    • Schedule check-ins

    It’s clear that lone workers are often isolated and at risk, however, when you can reach your workers where they are, it’s that much easier to engage and connect with them. 

    Stay Connected With Your Lone Workers!

    Free 14-day trial, no CC needed!

    Keeping Lone Workers Protected Going Forward

    As the manager (or owner), it’s your responsibility to keep your team protected and safe. Especially if you don’t see them on a regular basis. Lone workers are no different. 

    How you protect your lone workers differs on the industry you’re in, but generally the guide we shared above covers all possibilities. 

    Remember to utilise technology to your advantage, a real-time link is key to ensuring safety.

    Effortlessly Manage Your Lone Workers With Connecteam

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