Lone working - what's the problem?

Lone workers – particularly those working late night shifts – may be at increased risk of confrontation or even injury where some work tasks are more challenging to do alone

How are workers harmed?

The effects of workplace confrontation can vary from individual to individual. In general their effects can reduce productivity and disrupt workplaces through: 

  • impaired performance
  • increased absence
  • low morale
  • more mistakes and accidents
  • loss of company reputation
  • resignations and difficulty recruiting
  • poor customer service and/or product quality. 

What can you do?

First you must always eliminate the risk where you’re reasonably able to. Where you’re not reasonably able to, then you need to consider what you can do to minimise the risk. Here are some examples.  

Employers should understand the situations where people work alone and consider some of the following questions:

  • Is there a safe way in and out of the workplace, eg for a lone person working out of regular business hours where the workplace could be locked up?
  • What is the risk of confrontation?
  • Are there any reasons why the individual might be more vulnerable than others and be particularly at risk if they work alone (if they are young, pregnant, have a medical condition, are disabled, or a trainee)?
  • Does the workplace present other specific risks to the lone worker, eg handling equipment, such as portable ladders or trestles, that one person could have difficulty handling?
  • Are chemicals or hazardous substances being used that may pose a particular risk someone working alone?
  • Does the work involve lifting objects too large for one person?
  • If the lone worker’s first language is not English, are suitable arrangements in place to ensure clear communications, especially in an emergency? 

You need to select the most effective controls that are proportionate to the risk, and appropriate to your work situation.

Get your workers involved

  • Ensure your workers know how to make suggestions, ask questions or raise concerns.
  • Always ask your workers for input on identifying health and safety risks and how to eliminate or minimise them. People are more likely to take responsibility and make good decisions when they have been involved in the conversation. Your workers (including contractors and temps) are the eyes and ears of your business. They can help spot issues, and suggest practical, cost-effective solutions.
  • Always train your workers on what the key risks are and how to keep healthy and safe. 

Find out more about getting your workers involved

Where to go for more information

Protecting employees who work alone | Employment New Zealand(external link)

Health and safety guidance on the risks of lone working | Health and Safety Executive, UK(external link)