Guidance on Loan Work
Guidance on lone work
The following section is based on the HSE guidance leaflet entitled 'Working Alone in Safety' and provides useful guidance on the safe management of lone work.
Who are lone workers and what jobs do they do?
Lone workers are those who work by themselves without close or direct supervision. They are found in a wide range of situations; some examples are given below.
People in fixed establishments where:
- only one person works on the premises, e.g. in small workshops;
- people work separately from others e.g. in offices, laboratories and leisure;
- people work outside normal hours, e.g. cleaners, security, maintenance or repair staff etc.
Mobile workers working away from their fixed base:
- on construction, plant installation, maintenance and cleaning work, electrical repairs, lift repairs, painting and decorating, etc;
- agricultural and forestry workers;
Can people legally work alone? Assessing and controlling the risks
Although there is no general legal prohibition on working alone, the broad duties of the HSW Act and MHSW Regulations still apply. These require identifying hazards of the work, assessing the risks involved, and putting measures in place to avoid or control the risks.
It is important to talk to employees and their safety representatives, if any, as they are a valuable source of information and advice. This will help to ensure that all relevant hazards have been identified and appropriate controls chosen; consultation with employees and their representatives on health and safety matters is a legal duty anyway.
Control measures may include instruction, training, supervision, protective equipment etc. Steps should be taken to check that control measures are used and review the risk assessment from time to time to ensure it is still adequate.
When risk assessment shows that it is not possible for the work to be done safely by a lone worker, arrangements for providing help or back-up should be put in place. Where a lone worker is working at another employer's workplace, that employer should inform the lone worker's employer of any risks and the control measures which should be taken. This helps the lone worker's employer to assess the risks.
Risk assessment should help decide the right level of supervision. There are some high-risk activities where at least one other person may need to be present. Examples include some high-risk confined space working where a supervisor may need to be present, as well as someone dedicated to the rescue role, and electrical work at or near exposed live conductors where at least two people are sometimes required.
Managers need to be aware of any specific law on lone working applying in their industry (examples include supervision in diving operations and fumigation work). Further detail is now given on issues to consider when assessing risks from lone working.
Safe working arrangements for lone workers
Establishing safe working for lone workers is no different from organising the safety of other employees. It is necessary to know the law and standards which apply to their work activities and then assess whether the requirements can be met by people working alone.
Lone workers face particular problems. Some of the issues which need special attention when planning safe working arrangements are as follows:
Can the risks of the job be adequately controlled by one person?
Lone workers should not be at more risk than other employees. This may require extra risk-control measures. Precautions should take account of normal work and foreseeable emergencies, e.g. fire, equipment failure, illness and accidents. It is important to identify situations where people work alone and ask questions such as:
does the workplace present a special risk to the lone worker? is there a safe way in and a way out for one person? Can any temporary access equipment which is necessary, such as portable ladders or trestles, be safely handled by one person? can all the plant, substances and goods involved in the work be safely handled by one person? Consider whether the work involves lifting objects too large for one person or whether more than one person is needed to operate essential controls for the safe running of equipment. is there a risk of violence? are women especially at risk if they work alone? are young workers especially at risk if they work alone?
Is the person medically fit and suitable to work alone?
Check that lone workers have no medical conditions which make them unsuitable for working alone. Seek medical advice from the Occupational Health Unit if necessary. Consider both routine work and foreseeable emergencies which may impose additional physical and mental burdens on the individual
What training is required to ensure competency in safety matters?
Training is particularly important, where there is limited supervision, to control, guide and help in situations of uncertainty. Training may be critical to avoid panic reactions in unusual situations. Lone workers need to be sufficiently experienced and to understand the risks and precautions fully. It is important to set the limits to what can and cannot be done while working alone. It is also important to ensure employees are competent to deal with circumstances which are new, unusual or beyond the scope of training, e.g. when to stop work and seek advice from a supervisor and how to handle aggression.
How will the person be supervised?
Although lone workers cannot be subject to constant supervision, it is still an employer's duty to ensure their health and safety at work. Supervision can help to ensure that employees understand the risks associated with their work and that the necessary safety precautions are carried out. Supervisors can also provide guidance in situations of uncertainty. Supervision of health and safety can often be carried out when checking the progress and quality of the work; it may take the form of periodic site visits combined with discussions in which health and safety issues are raised.
The extent of supervision required depends on the risks involved and the ability of the lone worker to identify and handle health and safety issues. Employees new to a job, undergoing training, doing a job which presents special risks, or dealing with new situations may need to be accompanied at first. The level of supervision required is a management decision which should be based on the findings of risk assessment. The higher the risk, the greater the level of supervision required. It should not be left to individuals to decide whether they require assistance.
Procedures will need to be put in place to monitor lone workers to see they remain safe. These may include:
- Supervisors periodically visiting and observing people working alone;
- Regular contact between the lone worker and supervision using either a telephone or radio;
- Automatic warning devices which operate if specific signals are not received periodically from the lone worker, e.g. systems for security staff;
- Other devices designed to raise the alarm in the event of an emergency and which are operated manually or automatically by the absence of activity;
- Checks that a lone worker has returned to their base or home on completion of a task.
Lone workers should be capable of responding correctly to emergencies. Risk assessment should identify foreseeable events. Emergency procedures should be established and employees trained in them. Information about emergency procedures and danger areas should be given to lone workers who visit your premises. Lone workers should have access to adequate first-aid facilities and mobile workers should carry a first-aid kit suitable for treating minor injuries. Occasionally risk assessment may indicate that lone workers need training in first aid.
Return to Codes and Guidance - Index
Return to Environmental, Health and Safety Services - Home Page
Return to University of St. Andrews Homepage (University)