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October 18, 2009

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Guidance- Don’t allow out of sight to become out of mind

The HSE has published new guidance entitled ‘Working alone’, aimed at anyone who employs lone workers, writes Peter Forshaw.

As the guidance confirms, it is the employer’s duty to ensure that such working has been properly assessed to consider all the risks that are peculiar to workers being on their own. Issues to consider include:

  • the fact that there is no one to report incidents to, or to detect fatalities, particularly in high-risk areas;
  • omissions on the handover of duties;
  • an increased threat of violence;
  • risk of fraud, or dishonest activity;
  • consideration of the impact of a lone worker’s medical condition;
  • risk of employees cutting corners, or unsafe practices developing owing to a lack of supervision; and
  • workers trying to continue working using defective equipment, or work stations.

It is important that employees are consulted on the assessment and trained on any areas identified by it as a risk. It is also vital that control measures are in place to ensure that the matters identified do not result in serious risks to employees’ safety. Measures may include:

  • Identifying jobs that are prohibited when working alone, e.g. lifting;
  • Prohibition on new employees working alone;
  • Documented procedures for checks to be carried out on handover, confirming, for example, the state of the premises, or any problems;
  • Banning lone workers from operating in higher-risk areas (e.g. those where flammable elements are present, confined spaces, etc);
  • Whether enhanced supervision is necessary through periodic spot-checks, CCTV, time records, and regular telephone communication to ensure systems compliance;
  • Training on what to do in the event of faults occurring (e.g. have employees been trained to fix faults themselves, or should the advice be to use alternative equipment, or even, ultimately, stop working?);
  • Training on security measures; and
  • Employers may need to rely on ongoing assessment of work stations by the lone workers themselves, but again, they will need to have been trained to identify the risks.

Of course, in the absence of ongoing supervision, the risk of fraudulent claims increases. Again, the measures above will help respond to any claim presented. All too often such claims result from non-reported accidents at work, leaving employers at a disadvantage. It is essential that the accident-reporting regime is well known, enveloping a culture of incident reporting, with a strong, documented, disciplinary line taken in respect of those who fail to comply.

While lone working may seem beneficial for employers, they should give careful consideration before undertaking it, and ensure that the necessary systems, training and documentation are in place to help prevent accidents and to assist defending claims, if presented.

The guidance is available on the HSE website at

Peter Forshaw is a partner at law firm Weightmans.


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