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Working alone

The code of practice you should follow when you're working alone.

Code Of Practice

1. Introduction

A significant number of people are required to, or wish to, work outside standard University hours, when levels of emergency assistance from staff e.g. specially trained first aiders may be reduced. Additional precautions must therefore be taken when working out of hours, especially where there is a foreseeable possibility of risk to the person concerned.

Many people on and off campus work alone, both within and out of standard hours. Lone workers must not be at any greater risk than if they were not working alone. Home workers usually work alone and may work unusual hours.

2. Definitions

  • Standard working hours – between 8.00am and 6.00pm
  • Normal working hours – for some groups of workers this may be different from Standard working hours, and will be defined locally by management where necessary, e.g. for shift workers
  • Out of Hours - outside standard working hours at times when staffing levels are likely to be reduced, i.e., before 8.00am or after 6.00pm, or at weekends, or when the University is closed to normal business
  • Lone working - working by oneself on or off University premises without close or direct contact with others
  • Home Working - habitually carrying out work for the University in a worker’s own home or other premises of the workers choice, but not on University premises. Employees do not become home-workers by occasionally choosing to work from home rather than at their usual place of work.

3. Risk assessment and authorisation to work

Before senior managers authorise out of hours or lone working, they must ensure that the work has been assessed for risk, taking into account the specific hazards of out of hours or lone working. Conducting and recording risk assessments for 'out of hours' work or lone working is particularly important because of the potential for difficulties in summoning help, including poorer access to first aiders, and the level of supervision may be negligible.

Conducting a risk assessment to include consideration of out of hours or lone work need not be arduous. The hazards of an operation will remain the same as for normal hours or non-lone working; however, extra control measures may be needed to take account of there being fewer or no people nearby.

Measures should be implemented to ensure that these workers are no more at risk than other workers. Precautions should take account of the work itself and of foreseeable emergencies, e.g. fire, equipment failure, illness, and accidents. For example, it may be decided to reduce the quantity of a hazardous material used, schedule breaks with colleagues, and inform a senior member of the group when the work has finished.

The lone or out of hours worker and their line manager should undertake the risk assessment as a collaborative exercise. The agreed safe working procedures must be recorded and communicated to everyone who may be required to work alone, and to any colleagues who have a role to play in ensuring their safety.

Lone workers, especially those who work at remote locations or outlying parts of the University estate (including campus grounds), should be able to quickly summon assistance in an emergency. Alternatively, they may require training in self-administering first aid.

One possible conclusion from the risk assessment may be that the risks cannot be reduced to acceptable levels. Lone or out of hours working should not be authorised for those tasks.

Further guidance on risk assessment is available on the Staying Safe and Well website.

4. Vulnerable employees

Expectant and nursing mothers

The University’s duty of care extends to the unborn child as well as risks to the mother herself. Therefore assessments must include the risk to any unborn child or any child who is still breast-feeding. Consideration must also be given to:

  • reduced mobility may make the mother more prone to slips, trips and falls (especially in the later stages of pregnancy)
  • reduced ability to carry out physically strenuous work
  • increased likelihood of back injuries
  • entitlement to more rest breaks
  • risk of early labour or miscarriage

Further information relating to expectant and nursing mothers is available on the Staying Safe and Well website.

Young people aged under 18 years

Young people need additional consideration because of their:

  • lack of experience and immaturity.
  • potential lower ability to concentrate for long periods

They are also entitled to more frequent rest breaks.

Disabled people

  • Mobility problems and visual impairment may make unassisted evacuation difficult
  • They may have difficulty in raising the alarm when assistance is required
  • They may be unable to hear alarms.

5. Contractors

Contractors must be given the same level of consideration as University employees when carrying out a risk assessment. Contractors are at additional risk because they may be unfamiliar with aspects of the University, including:

  • layout and environment
  • emergency procedures
  • adjacent activities and hazards

6. Working outside Standard Working Hours

It is recommended that the following procedure be operated as standard for working out of standard working hours in academic departments:

A logging in/out book should be kept at, or near, the point of entry to the working area. It should be mandatory for any person working out of hours to sign in and out every time they enter or leave the workplace. If they are already in the building at the end of the working day, they must sign in the book by 18:00hrs. This will enable Security and the fire service to ensure that everyone is accounted for in the event of a fire or other incident requiring evacuation. The Head of Department should ensure that the book is available, and occasional checks for compliance with this procedure should be made, for example during safety inspections.

To ensure that someone does not inadvertently become a lone worker, the second last worker to sign out of the book (even if leaving for a short period), should inform the remaining person that they have become a lone worker.

7. Lone working

Lone workers should be no more at risk when working alone than working with other employees. Lone work presents a greater potential for harm, and therefore a safe working system should be implemented which is appropriate to the risk levels. Precautions should take account of normal work and of foreseeable emergencies e.g. fire, equipment failure, illness and accidents.

In addition to a logging in and out procedure, there should be the means for summoning help and for being contactable.

If an internal telephone is not readily available to the lone worker, lone worker alarms should be used if possible. Where these are not available an alternative system of control must be used. This could include, for example two-way radios, telephone checking systems requiring users to report at agreed intervals to Security, or having Security regularly patrol the area where work is being undertaken.

Lone working within Standard Working Hours

Persons carrying out general office duties including computer work may do so on their own. Laboratory activities involving any form of risk greater than that in general office duties should be undertaken only with others present or at least within earshot. This is primarily so that assistance will be readily available in the event of an accident.

Staff working alone in a laboratory or workshop should ensure that another member of staff is aware of their presence. Where a risk assessment has identified any significant risk related to a project, researchers must not undertake that part of the work unless staff or other researchers are present in the laboratory or within earshot.

Campus infrastructure and services' workers e.g. grounds workers, plumbers, etc. often work alone, and risk assessments for such activities must take the additional risks into consideration. The risk of injury in remote locations must be carefully assessed, and appropriate measures put in place to minimise this risk, including the means of obtaining timely and appropriate assistance in case of emergency.

Lone working Out of Standard Working Hours

Out of hours working in departments without labs or workshops is generally centred on office type activities and these are considered low risk. Therefore, providing the Head of Department agrees, lone working is permissible.

Lone working out of hours in laboratories or workshops should always be authorised in writing by Heads of Department before the work takes place, either as an open-ended authorisation for a named person or a specific one-off authorisation. It may be necessary to restrict the types of work that are permitted to be done, and this should be specified on the authorisation.

Lone working and home working

Home working is frequently carried out alone and only low-risk activities are undertaken.

Lone working and fieldwork

Fieldwork may take various forms which, if to be undertaken alone, must be carefully assessed for the additional risks that may occur. In particular:

  • Measures for obtaining assistance in an emergency must be put in place
  • There must be a system for verifying the whereabouts and safety of a lone fieldworker, including a reporting-in system

There are few prohibitions regarding working alone. The following items of legislation require more than one worker to be involved in a specific activity:

  • Construction (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1996: Working on a ladder which requires footing; and certain work which requires immediate supervision of a competent person, such as dismantling scaffolding;
  • Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002: Certain fumigation work and other specified work with substances hazardous to health;
  • Electricity at Work Regulations 1989: Work at, or near, a live electrical conductor;
  • Confined Spaces Regulations 1997: Entry into a confined space, for example, sewers or tanks.

8. Home-working

The Health and Safety at Work Act and its associated regulations apply to home-workers in exactly the same way as they do to workers at an employer's premises. Workers will be classed as ‘home workers’ only in very limited circumstances (see definition above).

Risk assessment of home-working

Employers are responsible for conducting risk assessments for homeworkers. The following areas are those most likely to need particular attention:

Manual handling

The risks must be assessed, and basic training should be given to homeworkers on avoiding awkward lifting, especially stooping and twisting, as even light loads lifted awkwardly can cause injuries.

Provision of equipment

Where the University provides equipment for home-workers, there are duties under the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations.

These duties include ensuring the initial safety of the equipment provided, arranging appropriate maintenance and, in the case of electrical equipment, arranging for its periodic examination and test.

Display screen equipment

Where an employee uses display screen equipment (DSE) as a home-worker, the duties under the DSE Regulations apply, regardless of who owns or supplies the equipment.

The principal duty of risk assessment may be most easily conducted by the employee themselves, using the checklist from the Staying Safe and Well website. DSE risk assessment training should be provided before the employee undertakes an assessment. Should the checklist reveal potential ergonomic problems, it will usually be necessary for a specialist to visit the employee's home to give advice on how the problems may be resolved.

Electrical safety

Individuals are responsible for the safety of the wiring/electricity circuit in their own homes and for their own electrical equipment. A simple checklist for electrical equipment should be used to ensure the safety of appliances in your work area. Visual checks to make on electrical equipment include:

  • cable:

    • is there any sign of overheating (stains or burn marks)?
    • is there any sign of hardening of the outer insulation?
    • is the cable kinked?
    • is the cable wound up or knotted?
  • plug:

    • is the plug damaged in any way (e.g. loose parts or screws, breakage)?
    • is the cable clamp loosened?
    • is there any sign of overheating?
  • equipment:

    • is the casing damaged?
    • are the switches damaged?
    • is the seal between the cable and equipment damaged?

Have only low power consumption appliances (computers, printers, mobile phone chargers etc) connected to extension leads. Always turn off equipment at the mains when not in use.

If multiple appliances are connected to one socket, this must be through a single fused extension lead. Extension leads should not be ‘daisy-chained.’

Fire safety

A few simple precautions will minimise the risk of injury through fire:

  • keep the work area tidy and regularly dispose of waste materials to avoid accumulation of combustibles;
  • regularly check your electrical equipment and ensure it is well maintained;
  • know how you would get out in an emergency and keep all exit routes clear;
  • have a smoke alarm fitted and tested. If you have gas fires or boilers at home, consider also having a carbon monoxide detector fitted

Psychological stress

This may arise from the social isolation of home-working.

It is recommended that only employees with sufficient maturity and trustworthiness, self-sufficiency, self-discipline, good time management skills, and good communication skills be permitted to become home-workers. A system and frequency of communication should be agreed with homeworkers, to ensure that they receive adequate supervision and support.

New and expectant mothers

They may be at particular risk from some work activities, for example prolonged sitting.

Assessments for home-workers who are new or expectant mothers must always take account of the additional risks. There may need to be additional special adjustment to the workstation, to allow good posture to be maintained during pregnancy. Additionally there may be a need for especially good communication links in case of medical emergencies, and there may be a higher risk from anxiety and depression.

8.1.1 Insurance for home workers

The University's insurance arrangements take into account the fact that increasing numbers of staff work from home, either on an occasional ad hoc basis, or in a more formal permanent way. Employers' and Public Liability insurance covers apply to employees at work regardless of where the employee is located. In terms of any equipment supplied to the employee, the University covers this equipment against loss or damage.

The employee should inform their own home contents insurance company that they are a home worker, due to the potential slight change in risk.

For guidance on other aspects of working off-campus or in the field, see the Staying Safe and Well website


Copies of these references are available from Safety, Health and Employee Wellbeing:

  1. Homeworking - Guidance for Employers and Employees on Health and Safety. INDG226 HSE.

  2. Work with display screen equipment. Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992 as amended by the Health and Safety (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2002. Guidance on regulations: L26 (Second edition) Health & Safety Executive.

  3. New and expectant mothers at work: A guide for employers HSG122 (Second edition) Health & Safety Executive.


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