Remember that lone working is not a formal categorisation of work – anyone who stays late at the office to finish off a report, or who pops in at the weekend to prepare for the coming week is working alone.
As an employer, you need to be fully aware of all loneworking that is going on in your organisation, whether it is undertaken by people who are employed by you directly (such as your sales force) or by people who work on your premises (such as your cleaners). A risk assessment should be carried out for loneworking as with other areas of risk in the workplace and to decide on the level of supervision. A risk assessment for loneworking needs to take particular account of the specific hazards associated with the work task and of the people who are carrying it out. Every loneworking situation will be different, but some common issues to consider are:
An evaluation of the risks should highlight the control measures that are required to ensure work is carried out in a suitably safe manner. Some common control measures for loneworkers are the following:
On 15 June 2011, Melloy Ltd was fined £100,000 and ordered to pay costs of £75,000 after a worker was crushed to death by a falling crate of aluminium car parts, while working overtime.
The employee was working alone in the heat treatment area of the factory when the wire rope hoist that was supporting a suspended basket of aluminium parts failed, causing it to fall upon him.
The HSE carried out an investigation and it was found that the company had failed to ensure that the hoist was examined by a qualified specialist after it was reassembled following relocation at the new premises. A risk assessment had not been carried out and the safety devices on the hoist were also incorrectly adjusted.
HSE inspector, Janet Viney, said:
"This tragic incident that has left a family without a father could have been easily prevented had the failed hoist been thoroughly examined when it was moved from one factory to another.
"If a competent person had examined the hoist, the changes which were made to accommodate its new position would have been recognised and the safety mechanisms would have been adjusted."
A Borders country estate was fined £3,000 following a lone working incident that resulted in a gamekeeper's death. The victim was a temporary gamekeeper who sustained serious injuries when he overturned his quad bike on a slope. He was eventually found 200 yards from the scene of the accident and it would seem had been trying to get to a nearby farmhouse to raise the alarm.
He had not been issued with a phone (although the normal gamekeeper had) and had no means of communication through which he could summon help. Nobody had noticed he was missing for 52 hours. The Prosecution arose because the gamekeeper's death had not been immediate and if he had means of communication he would have had the opportunity to summon assistance.
An engineering company was fined £100,000 in 2011 after a worker, whilst working alone was crushed to death by a falling crate of aluminium car parts. Paul Thorngate whilst working overtime in the heat treatment area of the factory was fatally injured when the wire rope hoist that was supporting a suspended crate of parts failed, causing it to fall upon him.
The Court heard that Mr Thorngate was one of many employees that worked overtime during the night and at weekends as a lone worker. The company had relocated and the hoist was reassembled at the new premises. After an HSE investigation, it was found that there was a failure to ensure the hoist was examined by a specialist after reassembly and was carried out without a suitable risk assessment.
The HSE commented:
"If a competent person had examined the hoist, the changes which were made to accommodate its new position would have been recognised and the safety mechanisms would have been adjusted.”
Lone workers are those who work by themselves without close or direct supervision. Risk assessment is, therefore, mandatory and essential.
There are a number of legal provisions that specify systems of working that require more than one person. These include:
Further guidance is offered to employers by BS 8484, a code of practise which recommends lone worker devices.
There are other provisions that require work to be done ‘under the immediate supervision of a competent person’ or similar wording, which would suggest that the work, although carried out by one person, must be done in the presence of another.