Lone Worker Advice: The Ultimate Guide For Employees

Book on lone working

This comprehensive guide provides straightforward lone worker advice. It has been developed for anyone that works alone and is split into the following sections:

(Click on the above links to quickly access to the relevant section.)


What is a Lone Worker?

Every day across the UK, up to 8 million people carry out their jobs alone.

Lone workers account for 22 percent of the working population and they can be found in many different industries. Lone workers include:

  • People in fixed establishments, such as offices
  • People who work from home
  • People who work separately from others, such as in factories or warehouses
  • People working outside ‘normal’ hours, such as cleaners and security
  • Mobile workers outside of their fixed base

Regardless of what sector you work in as a lone worker, your employer has a duty to keep you safe. It’s not illegal to work alone but your employer is required, by law, to consider and deal with any risks you may face. They are also required by law to consult with employees on health and safety matters.

As a lone worker, you do have responsibilities too. You’re required to take reasonable care of yourself and others, and, importantly, to cooperate with health and safety obligations set out by your employer.


Why do you need protecting?

As a lone worker, you are vulnerable in many ways. That’s why your employer is obligated to have measures in place to mitigate risks. These risks include:

  • Accidents – From slips, trips and falls to work-related injuries and road accidents
  • Illness – What happens if you faint, lose consciousness, or suddenly feel very ill, alone?
  • Attack – No-one likes to think about it, but when you’re on your own, it’s a risk

One of the most well-known cases around the risks of lone working is that of Suzy Lamplugh, the estate agent who disappeared in 1986 when she went alone to show someone around a house. To this day no-one knows what happened, and a charity, The Suzy Lamplugh Trust, was set up to help people develop skills and strategies for keeping themselves safe. Suzy’s case is extreme, but it does highlight the need to be protected.

Your employer will talk about the risks you face but it’s not in order to scare you; it’s to help you understand why it’s important to cooperate with lone worker safety systems and initiatives.


How do personal safety systems work?

Carrying a personal safety device is the most effective way of protecting yourself as a lone worker, and is the first choice for many employers.

There are many different types of products available to suit different types of workers – including mobile phone apps, discreet devices disguised as ID tags, hand-held satellite systems and other wearable technology. All solutions use an amber/red alert system, which allows users to raise the alarm should something happen. All information is transmitted to an Alarm Receiving Centre (ARC), which is manned by trained operators 24/7.

Amber Alerts

You use your device to generate an amber alert to log that you are entering a lone working situation that may be risky. For example, you could be a salesperson entering someone’s house, or an engineer about to carry out work in a remote location.

You enter details of your location, with a postcode if known, and a time when the possible threat is expected to cease. If you don’t cancel the amber alert when you’ve returned to ‘normal’ working practice, a red alert will automatically be raised.

Red Alerts

These are the alerts generated in an emergency situation or even if you just feel uncomfortable. If you press the button to raise a red alert, an operator at the ARC will assess the situation. The operator can hear what is going on via an audio connection, so if it is not safe to speak or communicate, often the operator can still understand what’s going on.

They may try to contact you through the device or mobile phone and will decide whether to escalate to the emergency services. They will continue to monitor the situation until you confirm you’re ok and the situation is resolved.

‘Man Down’ Alerts

If your device remains stationary for a period of time, is subject to a sudden impact, or if you activate an alert because you feel unwell or have had an accident, the device will send a ‘Man Down’ alert to the ARC. This means you are protected even if you are unable to physically raise an alarm yourself.


What happens when an alert is raised?

The following three real-life examples demonstrate exactly what happens when you raise the alarm…

1. Julie, Housing Officer

At 10.33pm on 27th July 2016, an amber alert was activated by a staff member (Julie) communicating she would be on duty alone overnight at a residential address.

Ten minutes later, a red alert was activated from the same device and the ARC could hear audio that depicted volatile conversations amongst the residents, with a male voice threatening Julie. Three minutes into the alert, the ARC operator tried to open up a two-way communication with no response.

A second attempt a couple of minutes later was successful, and the operator asked Julie if the police were required. Julie responded that they were not, but she wanted them to contact the on-call manager.

Whilst trying to contact the relevant managers, the ARC operator continued to monitor the situation via audio. With threats continuing – including one to burn the house down – the operator made the decision to contact the police and Julie managed to lock herself into the office. The operator continued to reassure Julie until the police arrived.

2. Andrew, Care Worker

On 1st August 2016, at just before 4pm, a care worker (Andrew), activated a red alert after locking himself in his office following an attack by a resident with a mop handle.

He immediately asked the ARC operator to contact the police, which they did. Whilst informing the police, the operator stayed in contact with Andrew to try to gather more information.

Andrew had not activated an amber alert to communicate the address he was working at alone, so the ARC did not have the correct location information. As well as confirming this, they also tried to ascertain whether the attacker was still onsite, and how badly Andrew was hurt, so they could pass all relevant details to the police.

The operator stayed in contact with Andrew until the police arrived.

3. Bill, Delivery Driver

At just before 8pm on 28th July 2016, a lorry driver (Bill), logged an amber alert that stated he had arrived in the town he was delivering in. A few minutes later a red alert was received and a male could be heard coughing, but the audio ended after 11 seconds.

The ARC operator managed to get back into contact with Bill via his device. He told them he was being threatened by a group of teenagers whilst attempting to deliver to the shop. The youths tried to enter the shop and displayed intimidating behaviour.

After checking the address, the operator confirmed with Bill that the police were required, and contacted them accordingly. The operator continued to check in with Bill until the police arrived.


Frequently asked questions

It’s normal to have queries, or even reservations when you begin using lone worker safety devices. These are some of the most common questions we hear.

“Am I being tracked through my device or app?”

It’s important to remember that you are asked to use your device or app in order to protect your safety, not so you can be monitored Big Brother-style. Plus, most lone worker safety devices are a tracing system rather than a personal tracker, meaning they only look up GPS at pre-determined intervals (usually once an hour). This is in contrast with vehicle trackers, for example, which enable continual tracking.

Some devices or apps allow you to manually log your current location whenever you need to. It’s good practice to perform a status check at each new location you arrive at, especially before entering a building. That way, the ARC will know your exact location should an emergency situation arise.

“Can anyone listen in at any time?”

No, because you are in control of requesting someone to monitor a situation. Apps and devices will be solely linked to the company who supplied them, no-one else can ‘dial in’.

Plus, when you have activated an alert which allows an ARC operator to listen in, you can close it down at any time.

Apps and devices are designed to keep you safe whilst respecting your privacy.

“What happens if I make a mistake?”

Nothing bad! If you generate an alert by accident, you simply need to explain the situation when connected with the ARC operator. No-one will get into trouble, and your company won’t be charged any extra.

And if you worry about what situations are worth raising an alert for, then remember the old cliché that it’s better to be safe than sorry.

“I don’t understand how to use my device properly – what can I do?”

It’s imperative that you know how to use your device or app, so please seek help straight away. Your employers should be your first point of contact, as they will have been trained in how to use them. But if they can’t help, they will be able to contact the supplier of the devices – who can.

Admitting you’re confused or need further training is fine, and it’s far better than struggling on and putting yourself at risk.


Further help and advice

If you’d like to find out more about keeping safe when working alone, a good place to start is with your employer.

Your employer should be able to address any concerns and share with you full details of their health and safety policies.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is also a good source of information. Visit their website and search ‘lone workers’

The Suzy Lamplugh Trust provides practical advice on keeping safe as a lone worker. Visit their website or call 0207 091 0014.