What are the top lone-working hazards in your workplace? Do you know how to mitigate them effectively? Find out how, here.
Published 28 Apr 2023
Often, lone workers' workplaces change constantly; from different places to people, they encounter a wide variety of situations and risks. (Take home healthcare professionals, utility service providers, social workers, courier drivers, and site inspectors as examples.) For this reason, it can be difficult to ascertain all of the hazards and risks associated with working alone. Understanding the most common lone worker risks, across all industries, is a great place to start.
Whether your team members provide healthcare services in patients’ homes; carry out inspections on dangerous rural job sites; or work from quiet home offices, working alone is a risk, in and of itself. Add common lone worker hazards—such as slipping and falling, physical violence, and sudden illnesses—into the mix, and you begin to understand just how vital it is to safeguard your lone workers as best as possible.
Are you aware of the common lone worker hazards in your workplace(s)? Do you know how to spot them? Do you have a plan to mitigate these lone worker hazards?
In this article, we will examine the most common lone worker hazards, as well how you can effectively and proactively protect your lone workers from them.
According to the United Kingdom’s Health and Safety Executive, the most common lone worker risks include:
Meanwhile, Ireland’s Health and Safety Authority adds that other common lone-working hazards are:
In addition to all of the above, the simple act of working alone—without direct supervision or immediate back-up support—is a hazard. Working alone makes each of the common hazards above higher-risk than they would potentially be if other colleagues were present.
In an emergency, how will a lone worker call for help? Who will they call? What if their emergency contact doesn’t answer? How long will it take to receive assistance?
And if the lone worker is physically unable to call for help (i.e. unconscious or stuck in a confined space), how long will it be until someone else notices that they are missing or injured?
As a health and safety manager, it is your duty to identify as many of the workplace hazards that your lone workers face as possible; ask tough, probing questions like the ones above; and proactively find and implement solutions that ensure your lone workers’ health and safety.
One of the best ways to identify your lone worker hazards—and determine their risk levels—is to complete a lone worker risk assessment.
A lone worker risk assessment is the practice of regularly identifying what could cause harm to your lone workers, and deciding how your organization can take reasonable, practicable steps to prevent that harm.
This lone working risk assessment guide details how to complete a risk assessment. Though, to summarize, you must:
A risk assessment is useless if it doesn’t inspire immediate corrective action. Once you identify your lone worker hazards, how can you safeguard against them?
Often, lone workers’ job sites change frequently—whether they drive long distances, tour different job sites, or carry out home or client visits in the community.
For that reason, it’s important to implement a comprehensive lone worker solution that safeguards against everything from falling down and becoming unconscious, traffic accidents, and escalating tensions with customers that could lead to physical violence.
After completing your first risk assessment, it is likely you will uncover the immediate need for the following safeguards.
Have you researched your legal obligations to lone worker safety? In countries like Australia and the United Kingdom, strict requirements exist to protect lone workers.
For example, the UK’s Health and Safety Executive states that you must “monitor your lone workers and keep in touch with them” by using monitoring systems or procedures such as “knowing where lone workers are, with pre-agreed intervals of regular contact” and “devices for raising the alarm, operated manually or automatically.”
Meanwhile, in the United States, OSHA states that “whenever an employee is working alone . . . the employer shall account for each employee: throughout each workshift at regular intervals appropriate to the job assignment to ensure the employee’s safety and health; and at the end of the job assignment or at the end of the workshift, whichever occurs first.”
Ensuring that your organization complies with your local health and safety laws and guidelines can help keep your employees safe. These laws exist for a reason! Plus, compliance can help your organization avoid hefty fines and penalties in the event of an incident.
Do your lone workers have the knowledge and experience necessary to complete their work safely? Do they know how to carry out dynamic risk assessments? Are they up-to-date on their technical training (i.e. for operating machinery)? Have they completed conflict de-escalation training (i.e. for healthcare workers who are at-risk of physical violence from members of the public)? Are they familiar with your lone worker safety policy—and its processes and protocols? Do they know what to do in the event of an emergency?
Providing your lone workers with the training and other educational resources they need to carry out their work safely is one of the best things you can do to mitigate lone-working hazards.
Real-time location monitoring is an important component of any lone worker safety program. Knowing exactly where your employees are is vital when an emergency occurs—whether they’ve been physically attacked by a customer or if a flash flood occurs. Instead of scrambling for a solution, with location tracking you can send emergency services to your employees’ exact locations, easily and instantly.
Of course, GPS location tracking requires technology, such as a lone worker smartphone app. To protect your employees’ personal privacy, look for a solution that is employee-enabled; in other words, your lone workers should be able to turn on tracking when they begin work, and turn it off afterwards.
“GPS monitoring of staff whereabouts is invaluable in an emergency. Staff appreciate that they control when the system is activated. Being a phone-based app makes the system extremely easy for staff to use.” – SHEQSY user
Checking-in on your lone workers’ safety and wellbeing frequently, at regular intervals, gives everyone peace of mind. Some organizations choose to manually complete check-ins (i.e. via phone calls or text messages), but this method leaves many gaps. What if the call is missed? What if the manager is preoccupied and can’t call? What if the employee is outside of cell service?
A digital lone worker system, such as SHEQSY’s lone worker app, can automatically prompt employees to confirm their wellbeing periodically (i.e. every 30 minutes). Employees can also extend their activity or shift time, keeping managers updated. When employees fail to check-in, managers automatically receive notifications, via phone call, text message, and/or email, so that they can respond accordingly. With SHEQSY, emergency escalation chains are completely customizable to meet your team’s risk profile.
“With a significant number of our staff performing outreach appointments in the community and in clients’ homes, having an appointment overtime alert function provides our organisation with peace of mind that the welfare of our staff is being monitored for each of their appointments.” – SHEQSY user
Equipping your lone workers with a quick, easy way to call for help can make all the difference. Panic buttons on lone worker devices make this possible.
SHEQSY can be deployed via smartphone app, Bluetooth wearables (i.e. standalone button, pendant, or wristwatch to discreetly activate duress), and/or handheld satellite devices (for employees working in rural, low-/no-service areas). When a lone worker activates duress, their organization’s customizable, pre-configured escalation tree begins, sending automated panic alerts (via phone calls, text messages, and emails) to the team member(s) responsible for the lone worker’s safety.
SHEQSY also provides an optional 24/7 security monitoring center to manage and escalate duress events, according to your organization’s safety policy.
What do you do when your employees are working alone in the community, and an emergency strikes? Such as flash flooding, an earthquake, or an approaching bushfire? As their manager, it is your duty to get a message to staff in the affected area, immediately, to warn them and to make sure they are safe. Do you call them one by one?
Without a lone worker safety solution in place, you’d be scrambling to find a solution – and your employees would be left in the dark, at risk.
Via the SHEQSY Dashboard for managers, you can quickly send emergency notifications and roll calls to employees (based on their geofenced locations, department, team, etc.) to confirm their wellbeing, and monitor their real-time movements to ensure they’re safe.
“SHEQSY’s ease of use and ability to use it in different ways to suit your organisation makes it a great H&S tool. We’ve recently used roll call during a recent weather event which caused extensive flooding and we were able to reach out to our providers and check in with them.” – SHEQSY user
Learn more about SHEQSY here:
Working by yourself, without supervision or backup support, is a safety hazard. While the act of working alone is not inherently dangerous, it can be if something goes wrong. Imagine if a lone worker slips, falls, and cannot get up. If someone were around to help them, they could receive medical assistance immediately. But since they are alone, without backup support, how long could it be until someone else finds them and offers assistance? Introducing a lone worker solution, such as SHEQSY, can equip lone workers with safeguards like location monitoring, automated periodic check-in, overtime alerts, panic/duress alarms, and incident reporting. These safety features can ensure that employees stay safe as they work alone.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration 1915.84 – Working alone. states that, “whenever an employee is working alone, such as in a confined space or isolated location, the employer shall account for each employee: throughout each workshift at regular intervals appropriate to the job assignment to ensure the employee’s safety and health; and at the end of the job assignment or at the end of the workshift, whichever occurs first.” Deploying a lone worker safety app, like SHEQSY, makes it easy for managers to safeguard, manage, and monitor their lone workers through panic/duress alarms, location tracking, periodic check-ins, 1:1 messaging, emergency roll calls, and more.
There are many ways to reduce the risks of lone working. Firstly, employers should frequently carry out lone worker hazard and risk assessments to determine the potential hazards that their lone workers could face, and their associated risk levels. Based on the assessments’ findings, employers should introduce appropriate safeguards. Some examples include: requiring more/better employee education and training; implementing a check-in and check-out system; deploying location tracking; and creating a robust lone worker safety policy (that acts as a go-to guide for lone workers and their managers). Using a lone worker safety solution, such as a smartphone app, can streamline lone worker safety and management, encompassing all of your policy’s must-have safety processes and protocols—such as location tracking, periodic check-in, panic alarms, incident reporting, safety forms/checklists for auditing, and much more.
Common lone-working hazards include physical violence, sudden health emergencies (i.e. heart attack or stroke), tripping, slipping, falling, general injuries, traffic accidents, and working in rural or isolated areas. In addition, the act of working alone, without direct supervision or back-up support, is a hazard in and of itself.
Never wonder if your lone workers are safe again. With SHEQSY, you can be sure you've taken steps to mitigate many of the hazards they face.
Deploy SHEQSY, and equip your lone workers with the tools they need to stay safe:
SHEQSY makes lone worker safety easy. Watch this 90-second video to learn how, then start your free 30-day trial.
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.
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