Lone Workers – Your Health and Safety

General Safety By Matthew Coombes

What is a lone worker?

A lone worker is someone who works on their own.
This can include workers who predominantly spend their time with direct management or supervision, but who may have times where they are working by themselves. Such as:

  • An office worker doing overtime or working from home
  • A cleaner working alone or on a weekend
  • A tradesperson working in someone else’s home or workplace
  • A security guard
  • Someone working in a remote location

Not all lone working takes place at night, and not all lone workers work on their own all of the time.

Why are there increased risks to lone workers?

There are multiple factors that increase the risk posed to lone workers.

Getting assistance – If something goes wrong when you are working alone, it can be much more difficult to get help. Anything that would render you to lose consciousness means that immediately there is no way of calling for assistance, whereas if you were working in a team or pair, the people around you may be able to call for help.

Health conditions – Getting assistance is particularly important to consider when you have individuals that may have health conditions that could cause them to be at increased risk. This may include but is not limited to conditions that may cause dizziness, fainting/loss of consciousness or the requirement for quick medical aid e.g. heart conditions.

Knowledge about a person’s location – When working alone, it is more likely that no one has knowledge of where you are at any given moment. A good example of what I mean by this is that if you are working alone in a building when a fire starts, the fire department and potentially even your employer may not know that you are on site. If the building is perceived to be empty, no one will attempt to rescue you because no one knows that you’re there.

Violence at work – Lone workers are at an increased risk of experiencing violence at work. Criminals and those with ill intent may see them as an ‘easy target’ because they are alone or isolated, or they may be looking to access a site when the staffing is lowest level.

What can you do to protect lone workers?

Policy – Identify who, what, where, when, how
There are many reasons that an individual may be working as a lone worker, so a strong policy regarding lone working can be a crucial step in identifying and controlling risk to lone workers.

A good example would be that if your organisation has a large project that they’re working on, a worker may feel the need to put in extra time in order to get the project completed on time. They could arrive and start work before everyone else, or they may stay late after everyone’s finished.

Would you know that lone working is taking place?

Having a policy with your organisation’s stance on and expectations of lone workers can be key to communicating effectively with workers. Your policy document may state that you expect all workers to sign in digitally upon arrival to site, or that you have supporting procedures and technology available to those that need to work out of hours.

Procedures – A common procedure that many companies adopt with lone workers is a scheduled check in, and what happens if a worker fails to check in on time. The time between check in will depend on how high risk the work taking place is. An office worker may only need to check in once every 45 minutes, whereas a person working close to water may need to check in more regularly.

Security – Locked doors and limited access to a site, or part of a site, can be a great way to improve lone worker safety. Preventing unwanted access through means of secure doors, gates and by using intercom or video link systems can ensure that only those that you want to visit your site can get in. If you have digital locks this may also provide a convenient form of checking in or attendance recording in addition to the increased security.

Obvious security such as CCTV cameras and digital locks can also reduce how vulnerable the site looks, deterring criminals.

Technology – Modern technology has meant that nearly every person has GPS, a means of long-distance communication, and a health monitoring device in their pocket or on their wrist. Smart watches can monitor health of those that may be at risk, and can even detect abnormal heart rates, impacts and falls. Some smart devices can even call for help, and send your location to key contacts if they detect that you have fallen or lost consciousness.

Providing this type of technology to lone workers who complete high risk work, or who have health conditions is now more affordable than ever.

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