Working alone can be dangerous. Whether it’s long hours on the road, meeting clients or being the only one on-site, working by yourself presents some unique risks. The new Health and Safety at Work Act has identified working in isolated or remote situations as a hazard that must be managed.
A lone worker is someone who is isolated from help, either due to location, time or the nature of their work. This could be someone who:
- Drives through or works in geographical isolation and/or difficult areas to access, such as mountain terrain.
- Drives through or works in an area not likely to be accessed by others, such as remote rural areas.
- Drives through or works in an area where communications are difficult, such as telecommunication black spots.
- Works a sole charge late/early shift.
- Would anybody raise the alarm if you crashed your car on the way to a rural site?
- If you were alone and injured on-site and couldn’t use your cell phone, how would your boss know?
- How would you get in touch with your employer if there was a natural disaster?
What are the risks of working alone?
Risks to lone workers will vary, depending on the nature of each job. But some common risks may include:
- Safety: working alone means if something goes wrong or there is an accident, there may be no one else there to help.
- Security or confrontation: working alone may put you at increased risk from other people that you interact with, such as clients or strangers.
- Social, technological or organisational isolation: you might feel cut off from opportunities, information, interaction and events.
What the law says:
The new Health and Safety at Work General Risk and Workplace Management Regulations specifically require PCBUs (a person/entity conducting a business or undertaking) to manage any risks to the health and safety of their lone workers. If risks cannot be eliminated, they must be minimised, as far as is reasonably practical. And because each work situation is different, PCBUs may need to consider the risks to lone workers on a case-by-case basis, unless there are specific codes of practice or industry guidelines already in place.
Under the new rules, PCBUs must also have an effective way of communicating with their lone workers.
How to stay safe and well as a lone worker
Some steps you and your employer could consider:
- Design a plan with your manager for how you can get help quickly in an emergency.
- Ask your employer to draw up a plan of what risks you might face as a lone worker and discuss how these can be eliminated or minimised. Your employer may wish to consider setting up a policy for this.
- Set up a plan with your manager for what to do when communication is lost - for example in a natural disaster or when you are working in a cell phone blackspot.
- Ensure your emergency contact details are up-to-date.
- Consider getting a first aid certificate and carrying a first aid kit in your vehicle.
- If your work requires a lot of travelling or driving, discuss the steps you can take to prevent fatigue. You can also download a free guide to preventing fatigue from our website.
- Set up a system of regular, scheduled contact with another person or supervisor. Your manager should make sure that there are regular opportunities to keep in touch and to bring you together with the rest of the team (even if this is by email, telephone conferences or video conferences).
- Ask your manager to ensure you have access to the same or more advanced technology as other employees.
- Ask your manager to ensure you have access to the same information, training, consultation and development as other employees. Managers should try to invite you to work-related and social events whenever possible.
As part of our Site-Specific Safety Planning course, Site Safe offers training on how to manage workplace risks. You may also wish to talk to one of our expert health and safety advisors about how you can protect lone workers, or how to set up a health and safety policy.