Updates to HSE Guidance on Lone Working – Policies and Procedures Explained

In March 2020, the HSE updated its Protecting Lone Workers: How to Manage the Risks of Working Alone guidance document, which advises employers and employees on the factors that need to be considered when assessing and managing the risks to lone workers’ health, safety and wellbeing.

This updated guidance has proven particularly well timed in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has seen hundreds of thousands of organisations adapting to these uncertain times by facilitating many of their employees working from home, or instructing them to carry out isolated activities on sites in order to comply with social distancing guidelines.

  • What is lone working?
  • What must an employer of a lone worker do?
  • What is a lone working policy?
  • What are the key updates within the HSE’s Protecting Lone Workers guidance document?
  • How can SOCOTEC support organisations with lone working health and safety guidelines?

What is lone working?

The HSE classifies a lone worker as ‘someone who works by themselves without close or direct supervision’, and this incorporates a wide range of job roles. As well as home workers, such employees as engineers, construction workers and field technicians whose role does not permit them to work at home are becoming increasingly familiar with lone working, with reduced capacities, staggered shift patterns and other such social distancing measures seeing employees frequently coming into situations where they work alone or without direct supervision for extended periods of time.

What must an employer of a lone worker do?

Despite lone working being a completely legal procedure, employers need to ensure that the health, safety and wellbeing of lone workers is taken as seriously as it is for those employees based permanently on work premises/in near constant contact with their supervisors and fellow colleagues. Employers have a duty of care to ensure the health and safety of lone workers as far as is reasonably practicable under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, as well as being legally required to assess and manage the risks to lone working employees under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

Lone workers should be accommodated within an employer’s general workplace risk assessment, with policies put in place to control, mitigate and remove the level of risk they face when working alone. As part of a lone working risk assessment checklist, employers must assess, monitor and review such factors as manual handling, illness, fire safety, slips, trips and falls, equipment failure and violence, implementing a range of control measures that apply to each individual employees’ lone working environment that will help to reduce and eliminate such risks.

While those who are lone working face the same health and safety risks as any other employee, there is a greater risk of these hazards causing harm, as lone workers may not have anyone to provide help or support in the event of an incident. Employers need to be aware of this heightened level of risk, and as a result, all organisations are legally required to regularly review and update their lone working procedures and risk assessments for lone workers to safeguard their health and wellbeing.

What is a lone working policy?

While employers are accountable for implementing lone working policies and procedures, lone workers are equally responsible for understanding and following them. As well as ensuring a positive safety culture, lone working policies clearly define employees’ responsibilities and outline any guidance for reporting incidents. Examples of lone working procedures for employees include attending any training issued by the employer, identifying and reporting incidents, accidents and near misses and carrying a monitoring or safety device when required.

What are the key updates within the HSE’s Protecting Lone Workers guidance document?

A major area of focus for the HSE’s Lone Working updated guidance document is that of employees’ mental health, particularly the impact of lone working on stress and wellbeing. Not only does working alone have a higher chance of invoking feelings of isolation and disconnect due to the lack of social contact and the physical presence of colleagues, but it can also mean that employers are unable to detect the warning signs of an employee who may be experiencing or at risk of experiencing work-related stress, depression or anxiety.

In light of its latest annual statistics report, in which the HSE discusses the increase in work-related stress, depression and anxiety in the UK in recent years, the new lone working guidance calls for employers to pay closer attention to the mental health of lone workers, with support systems in place to ensure that managers keep in close contact with their employees. Employers have a legal duty to support their lone workers and look after their mental health in the workplace by carrying out risk assessments, modifying lone working environments accordingly to ensure that appropriate measures are in place to help keep feelings of isolation, stress and anxiety at bay. This includes the implementation of procedures that allow direct contact between a lone worker and their line manager.

In line with this, the HSE guidance document has also been updated as to how managers should maintain contact with lone workers. Technological advances mean that there is no end to the number of ways in which employers can maintain a strong level of communication and monitor those who are lone working, supervising their workload and checking in with them. Employers should regularly keep in touch via pre-agreed meetings, include lone working employees in social events inside and outside of work, update and consult them on any changes they may be affected by and provide training as and when required.

The final update to the HSE guidance document is how to protect lone workers against the risk of work-related violence. While all employees are technically at risk from violence in the workplace, concerns regarding the vulnerability of lone workers often arise from the fact that they cannot always call on support to prevent an incident from occurring or immediately notify their employers if one has occurred. Recommended lone working procedures to safeguard employees against the risk of violence include employee training on personal safety and the provision of safety equipment that can be operated manually or automatically to raise the alarm if an incident occurs.

How can SOCOTEC support organisations with lone working health and safety guidelines?

With certain social distancing guidelines set to remain in place for the foreseeable future, it is more important than ever for employers to maintain the health, safety and wellbeing of lone workers during these uncertain times. SOCOTEC’s Health & Safety Consultancy team can provide a range of related online training courses on mental health and wellbeing, providing employers and lone working employees alike with guidance and support on such topics as mindfulness, resilience and stress awareness. Additional guidance on protecting worker’s wellbeing throughout the COVID-19 pandemic can also be found here.  

For further information on how SOCOTEC can support your organisation with health and safety compliance, get in touch.