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Exploring Lone Working: Definition, Legal Requirements, Hazards, and Controls

In today's work environments, the concept of lone working is becoming increasingly prevalent. While lone working offers flexibility and autonomy, it also presents risks that organisations must address. In this blog, we'll delve into what lone working entails, the associated risks, and best practices for ensuring employee safety and wellbeing.

What is Lone Working?

In the UK, it is estimated that there are approximately 8 million lone workers. With a working population of 33 million people, this means that approximately 1 in every 4 workers is a lone worker.

But, what exactly is a lone worker? 

Often people think a lone worker is someone who works away from a fixed base, i.e. the main office, building, or factory. For example, we may think of:

  • delivery drivers or taxi driver
  • utility engineers
  • medical professionals or care workers visiting people’s homes

However, ‘lone working’ can also be used to describe those working alone at a fixed base, working separately from people on the same premises, or those working at home.

In fact, Health and Safety Executive (HSE) define a lone worker to be “Those who work by themselves without close or direct supervision…”.

This means that the following are considered lone workers:

  • Security staff, cleaners, maintenance and repair staff working outside of ‘normal’ working hours
  • Construction workers who are working in a different part of a building site
  • Engineers working in a remote area of a factory

What are the legal requirements regarding lone working?

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and The Management of Health and Safety at Work 1999 (MHSAW) have requirements that anyone who employs lone workers, or engages them as contractors, including self-employed people or those who work alone, must do to ensure lone workers are ‘reasonably safe’. 

A person’s capabilities should be considered when assigning tasks and you should ensure they are provided with necessary health and safety training and instruction (Regulation 13 of the MHSAW). 

If the lone workers first language is not English, employers are to ensure that all training, safe systems of work and accident plans can be read and understood in the language of the employee and that the controls take language into account. 

Additionally, a suitable and sufficient risk assessment should be carried out (Regulation 3 of the MHSAW) (For further information on this please see Are your risk assessments suitable and sufficient? | Make UK).  

There is no legal requirement to conduct a specific, separate risk assessment for lone workers. But, there is a duty to include risks to lone workers in a general risk assessment and take steps to avoid or control risks where necessary.

If an employer has 5 or more employees then the risk assessment needs to be recorded, communicated, and reviewed frequently. 

The risk assessment must take the following into account:

  • Any hazards identified
  • Who can be harmed and how (it’s important to think about details such as medical history or level of experience, which may affect the worker, and therefore the level of risk) 
  • What procedures are already in place and what further action you will take to reduce any risks as low as reasonably practicable (5 steps hierarchy of controls) 

Part of the risk assessment process covering lone workers that also needs to be considered is:

  • To plan and design works to avoid any hazards
  • Ensure that any relevant training, information, guidance, and instructions have been given to the lone worker 
  • The development of an effective communication plan (for example, contacted regularly by a supervisor)
  •  Ensure the worker is aware of any emergency plans 

If carrying out higher risk activities or work, then tasks should not be carried out by a lone worker. Examples of this type of work include:

  • In a confined space
  • Working around or near live electrical conductors or underground cabling
  • Diving operations
  • In vehicles carrying explosives
  • With vulnerable patients 

What are the hazards of lone working?

Lone workers face the same hazards at work as anyone else, but there is a greater risk of these hazards causing harm as they may not have anyone to help or support them if things go wrong. 

Without the presence of colleagues or supervisors, lone workers may face challenges such as: 

  • Accidents and injuries - in the event of an accident or medical emergency, lone workers may not have immediate access to assistance, increasing the risk of injury or exacerbating existing health conditions
  •  Security concerns – working alone can make lone workers more vulnerable to theft, violence, vandalism
  • Mental health and wellbeing - lone workers may feel disconnected from the rest of the workforce, leading to feelings of loneliness, stress, and anxiety.

What controls do we need to think about?

It is important that organisations have a lone working policy or procedure in place for employees to follow. 

Having the right safe systems of work and training in place, allows employees and sub-contractors to know what is always expected of them and gives clear instructions and information on how to stay safe and prevent any incidents, or take the appropriate action in the event of an incident. 

Each scenario is different, so the controls will be different each time. 

Some examples of controls for lone working include, but are not limited to:

  • Being accompanied if new in job, undergoing training, or in a new situation
  • Breakdown and accident procedures
  • First aid and fire provisions
  • Regular communication
  • Technology such as body cameras, alarms, vehicle trackers and dash-cams
  • Correct planning when deciding road routes, including safe stop off areas (for fueling or for rest periods)
  • Emergency plans
  • Alternative work arrangements 

Naz Dossa, Peoplesafe Chief Executive Officer and Chair of the BSIA Lone Worker Section Committee, says: Lone working by itself is not necessarily more high-risk when compared with working in a team. The factor that employers need to consider is the increase in severity should an incident occur. It is imperative that anyone working alone has a robust means of communication so that they can signal for help or let someone know where they are so that help can be sent. Think of lone working control measures as an insurance policy. You hope that you won’t have to use them, but you’ll be glad to have them if you do.


Lone working presents both opportunities and challenges. Employers and employees need to work together to create and put in place the relevant risk assessment and controls and ensure safe systems of work are being followed. By understanding the risks involved and implementing proactive safety measures and best practices, organisations can keep people safe, support mental wellbeing, and add to an overall positive safety culture resulting in better performance, quality in work and no prosecutions or loss money in claims. 

For further information on how we can help you to review your lone working policy and controls, please get in touch. 

Blog / Make UK / Health Safety and Sustainability