We normally associate the words ‘health & safety risk assessment’ with workplaces like factories, schools and offices—places where many people are working at the same time.

But what about employees who work by themselves, sometimes outside of normal hours? If something bad happens, it’s harder for them to get help.

Lone workers shouldn’t be in greater danger than your other employees. So it’s your responsibility to assess the hazards they face and act to control or avoid them while complying with the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, and the Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

In this guide you’ll find:

Definition of a lone worker

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) defines lone workers as employees who work by themselves without your close or direct supervision. This includes workers who:

  • Work alone in places like shops, kiosks and petrol stations.
  • Work separately from other employees at the same workplace or work outside normal hours, such as cleaners and security staff.
  • Don’t have a fixed base, for example, maintenance, healthcare and agricultural workers.
  • Work at home doing a job that involves more than low-risk work, such as working with adhesives or soldering.
  • Work on the go, like taxi and lorry drivers.

Why you need to do a risk assessment

By doing a risk assessment, you’ll be able to quantify hazards and manage them more effectively. This will allow you to predict the likelihood of injury and make the reasonable adjustments to your workplace and to your employees’ behaviour.

By law, you must:

  • Create a written health & safety procedure and explain it to your employees.
  • Provide safe systems of work.
  • Ensure that your workplace is as safe as possible.
  • Provide staff with instructions and training they’ll need to complete their role.

Lone working policy template

The HSE introduced a five-step lone working policy template that makes it easier for you to spot and control hazards to your employees who work by themselves.

Step 1: Identify the hazards.

The first step is to look at the nature of the job that your lone workers do and identify the hazards that are relevant to your workplace. You should gather information on:

  • The kind of clients or customers your lone workers are likely to encounter. Some of them might be aggressive.
  • The type of locations and environments they might visit while on the job, and the times when they’ll be visiting.
  • Previous reports of incidents and near misses.

Step 2: Find out who is at risk and how.

Next, delve deeper into who is likely to face those risks and find out:

  • The type of injuries and illnesses your lone workers might suffer, for example, because of dangerous machinery or physical assault.
  • The procedures that will come into effect if your employee is held against their will, for example, during an attempted robbery.

Step 3: Assess the risks and decide on precautions.

Once you’ve identified the risks, you should:

  • Decide if they’re low, acceptable or high.
  • Decide whether your existing precautions are enough to minimise the risks that are high, or whether you need to take more precautions.
  • Find out if your staff have the necessary skills to handle difficult situations.
  • Establish whether or not your business has clear guidelines on what your staff should do when visiting or dealing with customers when they’re alone.
  • See how easy it is for you to know the last known whereabouts of your remote-working employees in case they don’t return to your workplace on time.
  • Find out if your lone workers have personal alarms, mobile phones or portable panic alarms that they can use to alert you in case of an emergency.

Step 4: Record your findings and put them into practice.

When you’ve finished going through all the potential hazards that your lone workers could face, you should:

  • Document all your findings in writing.
  • Come up with a plan of action.
  • Communicate your plan to your staff.

Step 5: Review your risk assessment and update if necessary.

This should be an ongoing step, rather than a one-off. To keep your action plan up-to-date and relevant, you should:

  • Review it on a regular basis, at least once a year.
  • Amend it if you make any changes to your workplace, for example, if you introduce a new piece of machinery or working time pattern.
  • Make sure you implement any changes and let your staff know about them.

What changes to make

Because no two businesses are alike, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all way to keep lone workers safe. Depending on the nature of your business and the risks involved, here are some lone working policy examples:

  • Provide training in conflict de-escalation, self-defence and first aid.
  • Give your staff panic alarms, either fixed or portable depending on their role.
  • Provide protective clothing and equipment.
  • Increase the security of your workplace with alarms and CCTV.
  • Create an audit trail so that you can monitor the location of lone workers.

Lone working risk assessment checklist

To help you put your risk assessment into practice, here’s a checklist of questions to ask yourself:

  • Do your staff understand why you’re doing a risk assessment?
  • Do they follow the recommendations in the assessment?
  • Did you write your assessment in plain English?
  • Does the assessment combine both individual and business-wide health & safety issues?
  • Is it as short and concise as possible, and can it be computerised easily?
  • Does it use a simple traffic-light scoring system to rate the different levels of risk?
  • Can your staff access the assessment easily?