Lone Worker Protection: Best Practices for Safeguarding Mobile Workers

Discover which lone worker safety elements to include in your lone worker protection program, and how to implement them.

Lone Worker Protection

Employers have a legal and moral duty of care to safeguard each and every employee against health and safety risks—but some workers require extra consideration than others. Lone workers face higher levels of risk, since they work alone without direct supervision or access to immediate backup support if something goes wrong. To safeguard your most vulnerable employees, your organization can develop a lone worker protection program that includes training, activity monitoring, emergency support, and more.

In this guide, discover the essential lone worker safety elements to include in your organization’s lone worker protection program, and how to implement them.

Introduction to Lone Worker Protection

It is important to carry out a detailed lone worker risk assessment and create a lone worker policy before any employee, contractor, or volunteer works alone. That way, your employees will have the necessary protections in place from Day 1.

Some examples of lone workers that require extra safeguards include:

  • In-home healthcare professionals
  • Social workers
  • Utilities maintenance workers
  • Security guards
  • Cleaning staff
  • Real estate agents
  • Retail shop attendants
  • Work-from-home employees

Without supervision and back-up support, lone working is a high-risk activity. The right lone worker protection can mitigate these hazards, while helping your organization save time and comply with its legal health and safety obligations.

How to Manage the Risks of Working Alone

To manage the risks of working alone, your organization must:

  1. Identify hazards and conduct risk assessments regularly
  2. Maintain an updated lone worker safety policy
  3. Provide training for lone workers
  4. Supervise and monitor lone workers in real-time
  5. Develop an emergency alert and response plan

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6 Steps to Protect Your Lone Workers

In this guide to lone worker protection, we’ll cover all six of these steps.

1. Consider Common Lone Worker Risks

To properly manage the risks of working alone, consider these common high-risk lone worker hazards first:

Physical violence: Working alone makes employees more vulnerable to experiencing physical violence from members of the public. Especially when they must: work very early or very late hours; enforce rules or regulations; handle valuable equipment, merchandise, or money; work with or around intoxicated people. Lone-working healthcare staff are particularly susceptible to physical violence. In fact, in 2021, the UK’s National Health Service staff survey found that 14.3% of staff experienced at least one incident of physical violence from service users, patients, relatives, or other members of the public in the last 12 months.

Stress and mental health challenges: In World War II, the U.S. Army developed the idea of a buddy system to ensure soldiers were supported emotionally, mentally, and physically. Working alone, and incidents that occur on the job, can cause stress and take a toll on employees’ mental health. The same NHS survey mentioned above found that workplace violence left 46.8% of staff feeling unwell as a result of work-related stress, and 31.1% of staff were considering resigning. Creating a buddy system at work (whether in-person or digital) can help reduce these risks.

Sudden illnesses or health emergencies: From sudden health issues (such as heart attacks, strokes, and asthma attacks) to injuries while working, health emergencies can catch lone workers off guard. If no one is around to help, and if lone workers don’t have quick, easy, and, most importantly, automated ways of calling for back-up support, outcomes could be catastrophic. Medical suitability is also a risk to consider; some lone workers may have pre-existing conditions and, therefore, be more prone to health emergencies.

Traffic accidents: In 2021 in the United States, 38.2% of all work-related fatalities occurred from traffic incidents, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. While it is not possible to eliminate the risk of traffic accidents completely, effective journey management practices – such as regular vehicle maintenance, location sharing, and emergency notifications – can reduce the risks to your lone workers’ safety.

Slipping, tripping, falling: Falls, slips, and trips were the second-leading cause of workplace fatalities in the United States in 2021, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Slipping, tripping, and falling is especially a risk for those working alone. Do your lone workers service job sites with abundant trip hazards? In case of an incident, how long might it take for an injured lone worker to receive assistance? What’s more, how will you find out that the worker has been injured in the first place – especially if the worker fell unconscious?

The workplace itself: Some workplaces can pose greater health and safety risks to lone workers than others. Rural locations without cell phone service, neighborhoods with high crime rates, construction sites, and isolated areas within factories or warehouses are all examples of high-risk workplaces. On the flip side, remote work from home is an example of a low-risk workplace.

2. Conduct Risk Assessments

Once you’ve considered the most common risks and hazards lone workers face, get specific. Consider the particular type(s) of work or workplace(s) your lone workers frequent and begin to identify their potential hazards and levels of risk.

Conducting a risk assessment is the best way to identify hazards, analyze their risk levels, and create action plans to mitigate the risks. Since workplaces are dynamic, it is wise to complete risk assessments regularly (i.e. once every 3 months).

Learn how to conduct a lone worker risk assessment.

3. Create a Lone Worker Safety Policy

Developing a safety policy that can be used frequently as a practical, go-to guide is one of the best ways your organization can ensure lone worker protection.

A lone worker policy should empower lone workers to take responsibility for their own safety, while making sure that everyone – from administration to managers to lone workers – is prepared to respond when an emergency occurs.

Your organization’s policy should include elements such as:

  • Known lone worker risks;
  • Defined job roles and responsibilities;
  • Clear safety processes and procedures; and
  • Detailed emergency response plans.

Implementing a fully customizable lone worker app can help you fulfill your policy with must-have safety features, such as automated check-ins, duress alarms, location sharing, and hazard reporting.

Learn how to create a lone worker safety policy.

4. Provide Training

Working solo or in isolation, lone workers’ first line of defense is themselves.

Even with a comprehensive lone worker solution, such as SHEQSY, in place, it can take time to get help. Therefore, providing lone workers with extensive safety training – and giving them the tools they need to protect themselves – should be a priority.

Lone workers should understand:

  • The potential risks in their job roles and workplaces and how to manage them
  • How to access and use your organization’s lone worker safety policy
  • How to carry out dynamic risk assessments as they work
  • How to complete safety check-ins to let managers know they’re okay
  • How to use a panic button to call for help in an emergency
  • How to effectively use de-escalation and conflict resolution tactics
  • How to report hazards, near-misses, and incidents
  • How to recognize when they are feeling uneasy, unsafe, or at risk and what to do next
  • When they should remove themselves from the workplace or situation
  • How to perform basic first-aid care

Of course, lone workers should also be trained in their specific line of work. They should have any necessary credentials and certifications, and know how to carry out any technical processes, solutions, or equipment.

5. Supervise and Monitor Lone Workers

Perhaps the most important forms of lone worker protection are supervision and monitoring. And in many cases, it is required by law to supervise and monitor lone workers.

For example, in order to comply with the Work Health and Safety Act, Australian employers must “provide any information, training, instruction or supervision needed for safety [and] monitor the health of workers and conditions at the workplace.” Further, the OSHA Standard Number 1915.84 states that American employers must account for each lone-working employee throughout each shift at regular intervals to ensure employees’ safety and health.

But how can you keep in touch with your employees as they work alone or in isolation? Or as they work with members of the public or travel from one job site to the next?

Using a digital lone worker safety solution is the simplest, most effective way to protect, manage, and monitor employees as they work alone. Let’s look at a few of the benefits.

Learn more about lone worker safety solutions.

Using a Digital Solution for Lone Worker Supervision & Monitoring

There are a variety of solutions available for lone worker protection and lone worker monitoring. The solution you deploy should have each of the following features.

Location Sharing

Knowing exactly where lone workers are, without any added effort, is essential in the event of an emergency. A lone worker solution must have real-time GPS tracking available, so that emergency assistance can be dispatched to employees’ precise locations.

It’s also key to ensure that location sharing is employee-enabled only. This means that employees can turn on tracking when they begin their shift or work activity and turn it off when they are finished; this protects their personal privacy.

SHEQSY is the leading lone worker safety and management solution. Via the cloud-based SHEQSY Dashboard, managers can view employees’ locations in real-time on a map, while employees stay connected via their integrated SHEQSY smartphone apps (for iOS and Android), integrated Bluetooth wearables, or handheld satellite devices (for rural areas).

Learn more about SHEQSY here:

Automated, Periodic Check-Ins

A periodic check-in, also known as a safety check-in, is the process of keeping in contact with an employee to determine if they are safe and well, or in need of emergency assistance.

Traditionally, this process had to be carried out in-person, or via phone calls and text messages; these processes take time, money, and focus (think about “phone tag”). Lone worker smartphone apps and lone worker devices automate this process, which is especially helpful when managers have various lone workers to keep track of.

With SHEQSY, lone workers can receive automated check-in prompts, at regular intervals, requiring them to check-in and confirm their wellbeing – or extend their activity to let their manager(s) know the job is taking longer than expected. When a lone worker fails to check-in, it could mean that an incident has occurred. With SHEQSY, a failed check-in starts a customizable escalation tree, sending automatic notifications to the team member(s) or manager(s) responsible for the worker’s safety.

Duress Notifications

Lone workers require a quick, easy, and reliable way to get emergency assistance when they need it. With a lone worker solution, employees can quickly trigger their panic/duress alarm to alert their manager(s) (or their organization’s security monitoring center) that something has gone wrong.

Via the SHEQSY smartphone app, lone workers can activate a panic in a variety of ways (such as via the QuickPanic lock-screen widget, in-app, and Shake for Panic). In addition, lone workers can activate their duress via integrated devices, such as handheld satellite devices (for employees who work outside of mobile phone coverage) and Bluetooth wearables/panic buttons (for employees, such as healthcare professionals, who require discreet ways to activate duress).

With SHEQSY, organizations can monitor lone workers’ activities in-house, or choose to use a 24/7 professional security monitoring center to verify and escalate emergency notifications according to their organization’s safety policy.

Ready to learn more? This free Lone Worker Solution Comparison Guide will help you choose the most effective solution for your organization.

6. Develop a Lone Worker Emergency Plan

During an emergency, staying calm and organized is key. The simplest way to do this is to prepare beforehand with a detailed lone worker emergency plan.

Your plan should cover proactive and reactive measures.

Proactive measures, such as providing panic alarms and personal protective equipment (PPE), creating and distributing a written emergency plan, allocating first-aid kits, and requiring employees to complete first-aid training, are very important.

The written plan should cover the specific reactive measures to take when an emergency occurs, such as:

  • How a lone worker can activate their duress alarm or call for help
  • What management should do in the event of an emergency, including how to locate lone workers and how to dispatch assistance
  • How and when to contact police or medical services
  • Technical emergency advice that relates to the specific job role or worksite
  • How to report near-misses, hazards, and incidents
Maddy Cornelius
Article by
Maddy Cornelius
Maddy is a content contributor for SafetyCulture. She has worked as a digital marketer and copywriter in the risk management industry for more than a decade. When she’s not writing for SafetyCulture, Maddy runs a popular travel and food blog and enjoys snowboarding, practicing yoga, hiking, and spending time exploring outdoors.