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How to Stay Safe When Lone Working

Updated on March 17, 2017
Beth Eaglescliffe profile image

Beth is an entrepreneur. She writes about employment issues, ways to earn money and how to get best value when spending it.

Working in isolation can leave you vulnerable to attack.
Working in isolation can leave you vulnerable to attack. | Source

What is Lone Working?

A lone worker is anyone who works alone or in isolation. This can be a peripatetic worker like a community nurse who visits people in their homes. Or it could be someone who works at the main workplace but their role means they are isolated from their work colleagues. For example, a maintenance worker who is temporarily working in the roof space would be a lone worker. Or you could be a worker in a large warehouse where staked shelves of stock hides your from your colleagues.

Health and safety laws do not ban lone working but they do require you to assess the risks of working alone before work starts. (See the end of this article for relevant legislation in US and UK.) You need to be aware how vulnerable you are when there is no-one within calling distance to help you should something unexpected happen.

A lone warehouse worker takes an inventory with a bar code scanner.
A lone warehouse worker takes an inventory with a bar code scanner. | Source

Safe Working Procedures

Action
Comment
1. Park your car close by.
Choose somewhere well lit.
2. Before you enter a property check in with your workplace.
There should be an agreed system of safe working.
3. If you feel unsafe, leave at once.
Be aware of the effects of alcohol and drugs on your clients.
4. When you have left the property check in again with your workplace.
Report any incidents that worry you.
5. Your health and safety are vitally important.
Act on your instincts.

Trust Your Instincts and Leave When It’s Unsafe

Carry Out a Risk Assessment

Before going anywhere that you’ll be working on your own, think about the risks involved. This may seem unnecessary, but a little effort now could prevent you encountering a dangerous situation later. First you need to think about what the potential risks of lone working are. Next decide the likelihood of you encountering these risks. Finally, have a plan of action in place to minimize these risks occurring.

For example, as a lone worker one risk is that you will be working in a confined space, e.g. a room in your client’s home with only one exit. The likelihood of you coming across this risk is high. Your client may try to attack you or prevent you from leaving. The plan of action to reduce your risk in this situation would be to always try to position yourself between your client and the door.

Another example is parking your car. If you arrive in daylight, but know it will be dark when you leave, park so that your car is facing your exit direction. This will enable you to make a quick getaway if needed. Park under a street lamp and have your car keys in your pocket so that you’re not searching for them in the dark when you leave.

A well lit car park with CCTV can make you less vulnerable to attack.
A well lit car park with CCTV can make you less vulnerable to attack. | Source

Are you a lone worker?

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Not All Danger Comes from Other People

The examples above relate to the potential risk of attack from your client or from strangers. However, many hazards of lone working happen because of your own ill-health or silly mistake. For example, if you ran out of gas miles from anywhere and your cellphone battery was flat, you would be really annoyed. If you were working on your own and had a heart attack or you tripped and broke your leg, you could be in severe pain for hours before anyone found you.

So, what practical steps can you take to stay safe? Firstly, it’s important to discuss the issue with your employer and colleagues BEFORE dangerous incidents happen. Even talking about it helps as it raises awareness of the danger of isolated working. Secondly, you should read and follow any lone working policy that your employer has implemented.

Topics to Be Included in a Lone Worker Policy

Topic
Includes
Risk Assessment
Safe entrance and exit? Risk of violence? Handling dangerous chemicals?
Medical History
Any pre-existing medical conditions that could make lone-worker more vulnerable?
Training
Emergency procedures, general health and safety awareness, understanding of risks of job.
Supervision
Regular contact between lone worker and supervisor by phone or online.
Emergency Response
What happens if no contact at pre-arranged time? Automatic warnings triggered by app? Buddy system to check that worker has returned home at end of shift. First aid provision.

Remain Safe When Working Alone

One way of improving your safety as a lone worker is to download an app for your cell phone. I recommend Post, an android app which is free to download from Amazon’s app store. It enables your supervisor or emergency contact to track your location throughout the day. It will automatically send a text message if you fail to check in as arranged or if you press the help button. The video below shows how this type of app works.

Lone Worker App

The Suzy Lamplugh Trust

The dangers of lone working were highlighted in 1986 when UK estate agent (realtor) Suzy Lamplugh disappeared. She had arranged to do a viewing with “Mr Kipper” at an empty property. She never returned and has not been seen since. Her body was never found but she was declared dead (presumed murdered) in 1993.

Suzy’s employer had no safety procedures in place to protect lone workers. The incident raised awareness of the vulnerability of people working alone in the community. To help others avoid a similar fate, her parents set up The Suzy Lamplugh Trust in her memory. The Suzy Lamplugh Trust provides education and training about personal safety and it campaigns to raise awareness of the dangers of lone working.

Graffiti can indicate an isolated or unsafe area. Be alert for danger if you are working alone.
Graffiti can indicate an isolated or unsafe area. Be alert for danger if you are working alone. | Source

Sources of Further Information

The UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) document “Working Alone” gives health and safety guidance on the risks of lone working.

US legislation relating to lone workers is found in the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1970.

The Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) has a useful factsheet on Working Alone.

The Suzy Lamplugh Trust is a not-for-profit organization that supports training courses about personal safety for lone workers.

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    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 8 weeks ago from The Caribbean

      Very useful article. Dangers for the lone worker are lurking around waiting for opportunities. You give very wise, practical counsel.

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