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Health and Safety Directorate

Lone Working Case Studies

Case Study 1

‘Lone Working* and Personal Safety’ during Psychology interviews with member of the public.

The following example is taken from the Education Service Advisory Committee (ESAC) / HSE publication ‘Managing health and safety aspects of research in higher and further education’

A psychology school conducts interviews with members of the public who are paid for their time. Researchers interview the subjects alone, sometimes in sound proof rooms. If a researcher comes to harm, it could be hours or several days before his/her absence is noted.

Actions taken included:

  • The supervisor assesses the risks involved in the project. Although there has never been an incident affecting personal safety, the supervisor consults with researchers and safety representatives and identifies a number of improvements.
  • The Head of School sanctions changes to the way subjects are selected for interview, introducing a ‘registered participant panel’ which involve more detailed information from the participant.
  • The University Council provides financial support to allow the school to provide a waiting room, which would prevent people from having general access to the premises, and to integrate the school’s office and interview facilities. This means there would always be somebody in the vicinity of the interview rooms to help in an emergency. The University considers further security measures for the school.

* Even though 2 people are present in the room, ‘lone working’ conditions are in place as the member of the public’s behaviour is the main risk, and the member of the public cannot be relied on to obtain assistance.

Case Study 2

Lone Working and manual handling / trip incident.

A post-graduate student was working on his thesis late in the evening. His monitor unexpectedly failed and in order to carry on with his work he searched for a replacement. He knew there was a computer in the group’s laboratory to which he had a key. The laboratory was one floor above his office and the lift was over the far side of the building so it was quickest to use the stairs. The nineteen-inch monitor in the laboratory would pose some difficulty due to its size and weight but as the distance was relatively short the student wasn’t particularly concerned. The student was able to remove the monitor from the lab but as his hands were full he could not lock up again so decided to return and lock the lab afterwards. On his way down the stairs the student struggled to see the edge of the steps due to the size of the monitor. Before he reached the lower floor he tripped on the monitor cable, which had been dangling, from the back of the monitor. The student was unable to stop himself and fell down the remaining steps, knocking himself unconscious. He was found, still unconscious, by a security guard on his rounds later that evening. The accident is reported to the HSE which decides to investigate.

H&S deficiencies in this scenario:

A manual handling procedure did not appear to be in place for the dept and no aids for manual handling were provided. The post graduate student was unaware of the risks involved and did not know the risk reduction measures that could have been applied to ensure the task was done safely. The post graduate student appeared to be alone in the area, and did not seek assistance to move the monitor.

H&S measures that have been identified to reduce the risks:

  • The dept has now ensured that a risk assessment has been conducted for lone and out of hour work in the office areas of the dept. Higher risk tasks have been designated to be done within normal working hours and/or by at least two persons.
  • A suitable trolley has been procured for manual handling tasks.
  • The dept staff and post graduate students have been issued with guidance on manual handling, and the dept line manager / supervisor have assessed the training needs for staff / postgraduate training in safe manual handling. Those identified as needing the training have now attended.
  • A reminder of the dept emergency procedure (who to contact, how to contact) has been issued to all staff / students by the Head of Dept and included in the monthly dept meeting.

Case Study 3

Lone Working and Fall from height injury incident

A roofing company employee fell nearly five metres and landed on a concrete patio suffering several major injuries. The HSE investigation found the worker had been allowed to work alone on several occasions, without anyone monitoring what he was doing. The company failed to ensure the work was properly planned, adequately supervised and carried out in a safe manner, in breach of the Work at Height Regulations 2005. (HSE Prosecution case 4262529)

H&S deficiencies in this scenario:

  • The working at height task/s had not been planned adequately in advance or risk assessed, neither were the safety control measures identified or implemented.
  • The Company manager had failed to establish safe working procedures and methods.

H&S measures that should have been identified to reduce the risks:

  • A risk assessment should have been conducted to identify the risks of the task/s (e.g. working at height, working alone, manual handling and other task risks etc in terms of the individual and working environment) and to establish who may have been affected (the injured worker and potentially anyone who came to assist following the incident).
  • The tasks should have always been planned as a two-person operation to avoid lone working.
  • Sufficient safety control measures should have been identified and implemented (e.g. suitable ladder, mobile platform etc for the task should have been identified, ladder / platform checks set up, training and information provided to the task workers how to work safely at height and in those particular locations and for further individual and environmental safety risks).

Case Study 4

Lone Working and Exposure to hazardous substance incident – splash of a hazardous chemical onto face

This incident occurred late at night, and the laboratory worker concerned was alone in the laboratory clearing up and placing items into a fridge. During the clear up process a chemical bottle broke resulting in a chemical splash to the eye/face. This was primarily due to congested / inadequate storage space in the fridge (housekeeping processes were inadequate). There was inadequate knowledge and awareness of out of hours emergency procedures on site, and the injured person was unable to obtain assistance until a few hours later on.

Health and safety measures identified to improve H&S:

  • Local lone working / out of hours procedures were reviewed by the dept to ascertain that procedures in place were appropriate; if not, to review and revise. Information was to be given to all staff and students or a reminder provided.
    • Of particular consideration were the awareness of whom to inform and how to inform when working out of hours / lone working (e.g. Security and Supervisor / Lab Manager and method of informing)
    • How to obtain assistance (e.g. call the emergency number) – first aid / medical and other services
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