Working alone in safety

Safe working arrangements for solitary work

Establishing safe working arrangements for solitary workers is no different from organising the safety of other employees. You need to know the existing law and standards which apply to your work and then assess if the requirements can be met by people working alone.

Solitary workers face particular problems and some of the issues which need special attention when planning safe working arrangements are covered by the following questions:-

Can the risks of the job be adequately controlled by one person or are more people necessary?

Solitary workers should not be exposed to significantly more risks than employees who work together. Precautions should take account of normal working conditions and foreseeable emergency situations, e.g. fire, equipment failure, illness and accidents. Identify all the places where people work alone and ask:

  • Does the workplace present a special risk to the solitary worker?
  • Is there safe access and exit for one person?
  • Can one person safely handle any temporary access equipment which is necessary such as portable ladders or trestles?
  • Can all the plant, substances and goods involved in the work be safely handled by one person?
  • Will cash be handled and will there be a risk of violence?
  • Is the person medically fit and suitable to work alone?

The work may involve lifting objects too large for one person; more than one person may be necessary to operate essential controls for the safe running of equipment.

Check that solitary workers have no medical conditions which make them unsuitable for working alone. Seek medical advice if necessary. Consider both routine work and foreseeable emergencies which may impose additional physical and mental burdens on the individual

What training is required to ensure proficiency in safety matters?

Training is particularly important where there is limited supervision to control, guide and help in situations of uncertainty. It may be critical to avoid panic reactions in unusual situations. Solitary workers need to understand fully the risks involved in the work, the necessary precautions and be sufficiently experienced. Employers should establish clear procedures to set the limits to what can and cannot be done while working alone. They should specify how to behave in circumstances which are new, unusual or beyond the scope of training, e.g. when to stop work and seek advice from a supervisor.

How will the person be supervised?

Although solitary workers cannot be subject to constant supervision, it is still an employer's duty to provide appropriate control of the work. Supervision complements information, instruction and training and helps to ensure that employees understand the risks associated with their work and that the necessary safety precautions are carried out. It can also provide guidance in situations of uncertainty.

The extent of supervision required depends on the risks involved and the proficiency and experience of the employee to identify and handle safety issues. Employees new to the job, undergoing training, doing a job which presents special risks, or dealing with new situations may need to be accompanied at first. The extent of supervision required is a management decision. It should not be left to individuals to decide they require assistance. Safety supervision can generally be carried out when visits are made to check the progress and quality of the work and may take the form of periodic site visits coupled with discussions in which safety issues are assessed.

What happens if a person becomes ill. has an accident or there is an emergency?

Solitary workers should be capable of responding correctly in emergency situations. Emergency procedures should be established and employees trained to implement them. Information about emergency procedures should be given to solitary contract workers who visit your premises. Solitary workers should have access to adequate first aid facilities and mobile workers should carry a first aid kit suitable for treating minor injuries.

What systems are required to monitor solitary workers?

Suitable systems should be devised to monitor the condition of solitary workers, and include at least a check at the end of the working period. In addition it is desirable to consider:

  • Procedures where supervisors periodically visit and visually monitor people working alone
  • Procedures where regular contact between the solitary worker and supervision is maintained using either a telephone or radio
  • Automatic warning devices which operate if specific signals are not received periodically from the solitary worker, e.g. systems for security staff
  • Other devices to raise the alarm in the event of an emergency operated manually or activated automatically by the absence of activity

Specific legislation affecting people working alone

In some areas of work there is specific legal requirements which identify work which require more than one person. More information can be found at the HSE website (external link).

These notes are only intended as a brief guide to Health and Safety matters and may not cover all aspects in detail.

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