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    Lone working

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    Who is at risk?
    • People who work separately from others in factories, warehouses, shopping centres etc.
    • People working on their own in petrol stations, shops, small workshops, homeworkers, security guards.
    • Mobile workers working away from their fixed base, e.g. engineers, sales representatives, breakdown mechanics, social workers, estate agents; the list is not exhaustive.  
    • The self-employed or contractors who work alone.

    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.

    Risk assessment

    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: 

    • Access to and egress from the place of work. Can the loneworker get to and from the workplace safely? Is the work being carried out in a confined space?
    • Nature of the work. What sort of work is being undertaken? Are loneworkers dealing with the public, where they might face aggressive or violent behaviour? Do they have to carry heavy items, or work in outdoor weather conditions?
    • Location of work. Where does the work take place? Where work is carried out by mobile workers or off site, the employer will have little control over first aid provision and emergency procedures. Does work take place at height?
    • Time of work. When does the work take place? We are all naturally tired first thing in the morning and last thing at night. Are there any increased risks related to the time of day, such as pub closing time or rush hour? According to recent research tired drivers are the cause of one in ten accidents.
    • Use of work equipment. What, if any, work equipment do they need to use? Use of electrical equipment or machinery will increase the risk. Check that they have been trained how to use it.
    • People. Who are the people who are working alone? You will need to consider their age, maturity, experience, health and fitness, and general state of mind. Where young people or new and expectant mothers are concerned, the risks will be increased.  

    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: 

    • Redesign of the task to eliminate the need for lone working. This can be done, for example, by changing shift patterns to implement a buddy system where two people work together at all times.
    • Provision of information, instruction and training. This might include training in the safe use of work equipment, or how to handle aggressive behaviour when dealing with the public.
    • Establishment of communication and supervision procedures. To ensure that a manager is able to contact the worker at regular intervals; to make sure that arrangements in the case of an emergency have been put in place; and to check that a loneworker has arrived back safely once work has been completed.
    • Use of lone worker devices (LWD). BS 8484 provides guidance on the best practises to be adopted when using electronic devices to transmit the location, identity and voice to a monitoring centre and request assistance or offer additional personal security.
    • Provision of mobile first aid facilities. To ensure that loneworkers can deal with minor injuries themselves.
    • Health surveillance of loneworkers. At regular intervals, to ensure that workers are fit and healthy to carry out the tasks required of them.
    Case studies

    Melloy Ltd

    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."

    Country Estate 

    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. 

    Engineering Company 

    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.”

    Key points

    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: 

    • Electricity at Work Regulations 1989.
    • Work in Compressed Air Regulations 1996.
    • Diving at Work Regulations 1997.
    • Confined Spaces Regulations 1997.
    • Control of COSHH Regulations 2002. 

    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.


    • Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.
    • Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

    Sources of further information

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    Kathryn Gilbertson
    Kathryn Gilbertson More information

    Greenwoods Solicitors LLP