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Health and Safety Directorate

Frequently Asked Questions

Who is a ‘lone worker’?

The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) defines a lone worker as ‘those who work by themselves without close or direct supervision’.

In terms of the QMUL H&S Policy for this topic, it has been defined in terms of the provision of H&S assistance - ‘A person who has neither visual nor audible communication with someone (physically) who can summon assistance in the event of an accident, illness or other adverse event is considered to be a ‘lone worker’.

I supervise or manage a number of people (staff and/or students and/or contractors) that work alone or work out of hours but what legislation is there that forces me to do anything?

Employers have responsibilities for the health, safety and welfare at work of their employees and the health and safety of those affected by the work, e.g. visitors, such as contractors and self-employed people who the employer may engage. These duties are specifically noted under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. Additional topic based H&S legislation specify prohibitions or restrictions for higher risk work (see the QMUL H&S Policy section 7.1.1 for details).

Is it ‘illegal’ to work alone on QMUL premises?

In most cases, no. However, a lone worker (staff, student or a visitor/contractor) should not be put at any more risk compared to others. H&S law (see above) then requires the employer (i.e. the manager / supervisor) to ensure that a safe environment is created for the lone worker to do their tasks safely. There are however specific higher risk work tasks that must not be done alone (see the QMUL H&S Policy section 7.1.1 for details).

What are ‘normal working hours’ and ‘out of hours’ on QMUL premises?

QMUL views 8 am to 6 pm on normal working weekdays as ‘normal working hours’, where the full complement of health and safety related assistance (e.g. first aid, security, health and safety advice) is able to be provided to staff, students and others. Outside of these hours, the capacity of QMUL to provide health and safety assistance will be markedly reduced. Persons working on QMUL premises outside the ‘normal working hours’ will be considered to be working ‘out of hours’.

What do I as manager or supervisor need to do to ensure the safety of lone or out of hours workers under my management or supervision?

It is the employer’s (i.e. manager / supervisor) responsibility to assess risks to lone and/or out of hours workers and take steps (implement measures) to avoid or reduce (control) risk so that the worker is not at any more risk than others.

These H&S responsibilities cannot be transferred to the lone or out of hours worker. However, the manager/supervisor must involve the lone or out of hours worker when considering (assessing) potential risks and identifying measures to avoid or reduce (control) the risks from working alone and/or out of hours.

The lone or out of hours worker as an employee has a responsibility to take reasonable care of themselves and other people affected by their work and to co-operate with their employer (manager / supervisor) in meeting their legal obligations.

Non-employees (e.g. undergraduates, visiting researchers, contractors) must abide by the health and safety requirements specified by their QMUL host (e.g. course tutor/supervisor, academic host, estates and facilities manager).

What resources are available for me as a Manager or Supervisor to complete a risk assessment and to identify the safety measures for lone or out of hours working?

The QMUL H&S Policy on Lone Working and Out of Hours Working, this guidance document and also the HSE leaflet ‘Working Alone in Safety’ will assist those who supervise and/or manage lone workers and those working out of hours. You should also consult your School / Institute / Directorate local H&S rules and procedures as these documents will have specific local information and local safe working arrangements / procedures.

You can also contact your School / Institute / Directorate Safety Coordinator and/or the Health and Safety Directorate H&S Advisers for further advice.

For certain high risk activities, specific training can be arranged by HSD or the School / Institute  / Directorate for staff planning the work in order to effectively assess and identify suitable measures, so lone working can be either avoided or is managed in a safer way (e.g. for Working Safely at Height, Working Safely in Confined Spaces etc).

A number of charity / government or commercial websites also give practical measures how to establish and remain safe during lone working.

Examples –

Commercial organisations (QMUL HSD does not validate the content or services of these organisations):

I work alone and also out of hours in an office which is ‘low risk’, why do I have to complete a risk assessment?

Persons working alone or out of hours in offices carrying out typical office activities (using a PC or laptop, reading, typing, filing papers) are unlikely to be at significant risk, provided adequate fire, security and communication procedures are in place. However, conducting a risk assessment will identify any individual circumstances that may put the person at additional or significant risk (e.g. a particular medical condition, a certain disability) or changes to the environment during certain times (e.g. changes to access and egress points or fire assembly points during out of hours) or change to the provision of assistance during certain times (e.g. reduced number of first aiders during out of hours). Measures can then be identified and taken to ensure the same level of health and safety is provided.

Can I as a manager or supervisor complete a single lone working or out of hours working risk assessment for all of my team / group’s tasks on campus?

Where the tasks are of low risk, and if all of the team or group is conducting the similar or identical tasks, then yes. However, individual must be taken into account, and if any person is at additional risk, e.g. because of a temporary or long-standing illness or disability, their individual circumstances must be assessed. The QMUL Lone Working and Out of Hours risk assessment template makes provision in both cases.

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