Lone Working Policy: UK NHS Safety Requirements

In this article, you will learn what you must include in your organization’s lone working policy for National Health Service (NHS) staff in the United Kingdom, and why.

The Need for Lone Working Policy

From social workers carrying out community outreach to healthcare professionals conducting in-home appointments, every year, the amount of health professionals working alone is only increasing. Working without access to immediate support or supervision exposes lone workers to higher health and safety risks.

When creating your lone working policy, NHS workers’ safety should be top of mind. After all, employers have a legal obligation to protect their employees by managing and reducing all risks to health and safety, so far as is reasonably practicable.

What is a Lone Worker in the NHS?

Put simply, a lone worker is someone who works alone, or without close or direct supervision.

For example, employees who work alone with clients, such as nurses who visit patients in their homes, are considered lone workers. Staff who work remotely from their own homes, such as telehealth providers, are also considered lone workers.

Working in isolation is considered lone working too; for instance, if two healthcare workers are inside of the same building, but are working outside of earshot or sight of each other, they would be considered lone workers.

General Duty of Employers to Protect NHS Workers

According to the United Kingdom’s Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, all employers have general duties to their employees. The Act states that “it shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees.”

In particular, employers’ duties include:

  • the provision of such information, instruction, training and supervision as is necessary to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety at work of his employees;
  • the provision and maintenance of plant and systems of work that are, so far as is reasonably practicable, safe and without risks to health;
  • so far as is reasonably practicable as regards any place of work under the employer’s control, the maintenance of it in a condition that is safe and without risks to health and the provision and maintenance of means of access to and egress from it that are safe and without such risks;
  • the provision and maintenance of a working environment for his employees that is, so far as is reasonably practicable, safe, without risks to health, and adequate as regards facilities and arrangements for their welfare at work.

Risks of Lone Working in the NHS

Lone workers face greater risks to their health and safety because no one else is around to help them if something goes wrong.

Due to the high-risk nature of working alone, the United Kingdom’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has published a guide, Lone working: Protect those working alone. This guide explains that employers “must train, supervise and monitor lone workers and keep in touch with them and respond to any incident”.

Some of the highest-risk hazards to lone healthcare workers include:

  • physical violence and aggression
  • verbal abuse and harassment
  • slips, trips, falls
  • road accidents
  • sudden medical issues (i.e. heart attack or stroke)
  • the workplace itself (i.e. rural location)

Workplace Violence in the NHS

For NHS staff and other healthcare, social, and community outreach workers, workplace violence is a major concern.

According to NHS England, the 2021 NHS Staff survey, which received roughly 600,000 responses, found that:

  • 14.3% of NHS staff have experienced at least one incident of physical violence from patients, service users, relatives or other members of the public in the last 12 months. In the ambulance sector, paramedics have experienced a much higher volume of abuse (31.4%).
  • The impact on staff is significant, with violent attacks contributing to 46.8% of staff feeling unwell as a result of work-related stress in the last 12 months, with 31.1% said thinking about leaving the organisation.

Clearly, workplace health and safety for lone workers should be a top priority. The best ways to safeguard lone workers are to create a carefully considered, practical lone working safety policy and to deploy a lone worker solution (i.e. lone worker devices and smartphone apps) to protect lone workers in real-time.

Before Creating a Policy, Start with Risk Assessments

Perhaps the most important part of creating a lone worker policy for NHS workers is the first step: conducting an in-depth lone worker risk assessment.

A lone worker risk assessment is the process of identifying and assessing the workplace hazards and risks associated with your lone workers’ specific work responsibilities, tasks, and environments, and understanding whether your organization is taking all reasonable and practicable steps to mitigate those risks.

With an in-depth understanding of the risks and hazards threatening your lone workers’ health and safety, you can create a policy that further mitigates those risks.

For a comprehensive guide about conducting lone worker risk assessments, click here.

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Lone Worker Dynamic Risk Assessments

It is important to note that lone-working healthcare staff should also be trained to conduct their own dynamic risk assessments.

A dynamic risk assessment is a safety practice in which workers quickly identify and analyze risks and hazards ‘on the spot’, remove them, and proceed with work safely. This simple practice empowers staff to keep themselves safe while working.

According to NHS Employers, in addition to conducting a dynamic risk assessment, employees should take these actions to keep themselves safe at work: report incidents, attend trainings, understand and follow safety policies and procedures, assess the risks of their personal safety, and make use of their lone worker devices.

Elements to Include in Lone Working Policy for NHS Staff

A lone worker policy is an official document that establishes your organization’s regulations for ensuring the safety of employees who work alone, remotely, or in isolated environments.

All lone worker safety policies for NHS staff should include these elements:

  • Policy purpose statement
  • Process for risk assessments
  • Clear identification of lone worker risks
  • Defined processes, procedures, roles, and responsibilities
  • Detailed emergency response plans and processes
  • Training processes and requirements for lone-working staff
  • Specific reporting procedures for hazards, incidents, and near-misses
  • Additional resources and contact information

For a comprehensive guide about creating a lone worker safety policy, click here.

The NHS and Lone Worker Apps & Devices

The HSE’s guide, Protecting lone workers: How to manage the risks of working alone, states that “providing work equipment such as devices designed to raise the alarm in an emergency which can be operated manually or automatically, e.g. phones or radios” can help manage the risk of work-related violence and other incidents.

Today, many organizations are deploying digital lone worker solutions, such as lone worker smartphone apps and lone worker safety devices to stay connected to their employees as they work alone. Typically, these solutions offer features such as real-time location sharing, duress or panic alarms, automated check-ins, and even 1:1 messaging capabilities. 

SHEQSY is the leading lone worker safety solution for managing, monitoring, and reporting on lone workers’ safety and activities.

“Since using SHEQSY, employees report that they feel much more secure knowing that they have SHEQSY monitoring their sessions. As a manager, I find it much easier to track the safety of my employees when working in the community. SHEQSY not only allows my employees to utilize an existing device, but it also provides a quick panic option, avoiding the hassle of having to unlock a phone in an emergency.”

– Jeremy B, Community Rehab Manager, Epworth Healthcare

See SHEQSY in action in this 90-second video here:

NHS Lone Working Policy FAQs

Every organization is legally obligated to create a safety policy to protect the health and safety of their employees. A lone worker policy for NHS staff members should take into account the unique risks that lone healthcare workers face, such as the increased risk of workplace violence. Lone worker policies for NHS staff should include processes for risk assessments; defined potential lone worker risks; detailed processes, procedures, roles, responsibilities, and emergency response plans; training processes and requirements; specific reporting procedures for hazards, incidents, and near-misses; and more.

A lone working policy is a set of regulations developed by an organization to ensure the safety of employees who work alone, remotely, or in isolated environments. Organizations’ lone working policies should take into account their governments’ health and safety regulations and recommendations; they should also be based on their own detailed and frequent risk assessments.

A lone worker is someone who works alone, remotely, or in isolation, without close or direct supervision or access to immediate backup support. Working without access to immediate emergency assistance exposes lone workers to higher health and safety risks. Lone workers include staff members who work alone, directly with clients or other members of the community. Colleagues who work in the same building, but outside of sight or earshot of each other, are also considered lone workers.


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.