Can an Employee Refuse to Work Alone?

Can an Employee Refuse to Work Alone?

There is no general legal reason why employees cannot work alone. However, under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, employers have legal duties to assess all risks to health and safety, including the risk of lone working. 

Lone working is legal, and in some roles, entirely necessary. In others it is convenient and sometimes it can happen unexpectedly. As an employer, you have a legal obligation to be aware of all the ways your employees could lone work and carefully consider health and safety risks. This also extends to contractors and self-employed people who work for your business.

If an employees role is entirely based around lone working, and this is stipulated in their contract, and was clearly advertised and agreed upon during the recruitment process, a later refusal to do so could be deemed as failure to carry out their role. This would then be handled by your internal HR procedures. If however, they have good reason to refuse to lone work, such as changes in working environments, clients etc and failure of the organisation to carry out appropriate assessments, then they have a legal right to refuse. As an employers, you must be able to evidence clearly, at all time, that you have assessed lone working roles and removed or reduced any risks. 

What is classed as lone working?

 The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) defines lone workers as ‘those who work by themselves without close or direct supervision’. This could be for example, a security guard working in an office on a night shift, or social and health workers who visit people in their homes, delivery drivers, tradespeople, homeworkers, or shop-workers. Even office workers can find themselves occasionally alone.

Lone workers can work:

  • from a fixed base – a single person alone on a premise such as a shop or cafe.
  • at the same place as other people but in an isolated location or during different hours – such as a security guard.
  • away from an office or central base – such as social workers, inspectors, maintenance workers
  • at home – remote workers, those who work from home
  • mobile  – delivery drivers, taxi drivers

Responsibilities

Whilst employers have the greatest responsibility with regard to safeguarding lone working, employees also have an important role to play. This should be outlined in any lone working policy.

Employers are responsible for:

  1. carrying out risk assessments
  2. implementing a lone working policy
  3. ensuring policies are regularly reviewed and updated
  4. providing training, including comprehensive induction
  5. communicating information effectively
  6. acting on any lone worker incident reports
  7. providing supervision and support

Employees are responsible for:

  1. attending training
  2. reading and understanding relevant policies
  3. following policies and procedures
  4. using personal protective equipment if provided
  5. carrying a personal safety device if provided
  6. taking care of personal safety and that of others
  7. reporting any incidents where they feel at risk
  8. reporting any accidents, near misses or acts of aggression

Protecting lone workers

As an employer you have a duty to take every reasonable precaution to ensure the safety of lone workers in your organisation. There are numerous ways lone workers can be vulnerable. As an employer you must put a policy in place to migrate risks. This includes

Accidents – falls, trips etc, road accidents, work related accidents

Illness – if someone is alone and they suddenly fall ill, what happens? They could faint or lose consciousness.

Attack – working alone makes you vulnerable and an easy target.

Training

Engage in Learning provide an engaging and robust eLearning Lone Worker training course. This course will explore all the legal responsibilities, the possible risks associated with lone working and steps you must take to minimise risk.