Working Alone Safely (OBUHSN-31)


This Health and Safety Notice should be read and understood by all staff of Oxford Brookes University. Where appropriate it should also be brought to the attention of the student body.

Legal requirements

Under the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 (Sections 2 & 3) and the Management of Health & Safety at work Regulations (Regulation 3), Deans of Faculty Directors of Directorates, as employers, are responsible for the health, safety and welfare at work of their staff and the health and safety of those affected by the work.

  • There is no general prohibition on people working alone, but sometimes the law stipulates that at least two people must be involved in the work and specifies the safe systems of work to be followed (e.g. live electrical working, trainees operating specified machines). In some cases exemptions are available, in others the law stipulates the standard of supervision to be provided (e.g. for young people undergoing training), and limits the extent to which people may work on their own.
  • Where there is no specific legal prohibition on working alone, the general duties of the Health and Safety at Work Act still apply. This requires the identification of the hazard, assessing the risks involved (OBUHSN-36), and devising and implementing safe working arrangements to ensure that the risks are either eliminated or adequately controlled. When it is not possible to devise arrangements for the work to be done safely by one person, alternative arrangements providing help or back up must be devised.

Dean of Faculty/Director of Directorate responsibilities

These responsibilities cannot be transferred to staff that work alone or without close supervision. Deans of Faculties/Directors of Directorates must be aware of any specific legal requirements applying to work in their area and they must arrange that the necessary equipment, information, instruction, training and supervision are provided to ensure that those requirements are met. Information is available from the Safety Team.

  • Assessments of the risks of working alone carried out under Risk Assessment OBUHSN-36 will confirm whether one unaccompanied person can do the work safely.

Staff, students’ and researchers’ responsibilities

Under the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 (Section 7), staff and students have responsibilities to take reasonable care of themselves and others affected by their work and to co-operate with their Deans of Faculty / Directors of Directorate in the discharge of their legal obligations.

  • It will be the staff's/students’ responsibility to inform their line manager, Dean of Faculty / Director of Directorate or supervisor of the fact that they are intending to work alone.

Safe system of work

Working alone can happen at any time but the risks inherent in working alone after the University has officially closed will be greatly increased and this must be taken into consideration when undertaking the risk assessment. (Strategies to avoid the dangers of lone working for guidelines)

Establishing safe working arrangements for lone workers is no different from organising the safety of other staff.  The Deans of Faculties/Directors of Directorates must assess the risks of working alone. Risk Assessment (OBUHSN-36), will confirm whether the lone worker can actually do the work safely.

  • This will include the identification of hazards from:
    • Machinery used
    • Items handled
    • Substances used
    • Environment and atmosphere encountered
    • Being outside or inside normal working hours
    • Violence from others.

  • Particular consideration must be given to the following:
    • Does the workplace present a special risk to the lone worker?
    • Is there safe access and egress?
    • Can one person safely handle and temporary access equipment that is necessary such as portable ladders or trestles?
    • Can all the plant, equipment, substances and materials involved in the work be handled by one person safely?
    • Will money be handled and/or could there be a risk of violence?
    • Is the person medically fit and suitable to work alone? Check that lone workers have no medical conditions that make them unsuitable for working alone. Seek medical advice if necessary
    • Consider both routine work and foreseeable emergencies that may impose additional physical and mental burdens on the individual
    • What training is required to ensure proficiency in safety matters?
    • Problems of communication
    • Emergency procedures (OBUHSN-09)
    • Access to a trained first aider
    • Knowledge of fire procedures and use of fire extinguishers.

Permit to work

In certain circumstances, particularly when the risks detailed in the section above (Safe system of work) are considered too high or where specific legal requirements exist, written permission to carry out the work may be required in the form of a Permit to Work.

Working alone off-site

One aspect of Health and Safety that is often overlooked is that of personal safety. Many staff/students of the University work in an environment that could be potentially unsafe. This is especially true of staff/students who work alone, either on campus or off-site.

Line managers must use the guidelines in strategies to avoid the dangers of lone working while undertaking a risk assessment to ascertain the level of risk that staff may be exposed to and then take appropriate action. This may include:

  • Implementing a contact system for staff/students,
  • Changing the system so that personnel do not have to work alone in the evenings or early in the morning,
  • Specific training for lone working.

Every incidence of lone working will be unique to the individual. Although every incidence of lone working requires assessing, generic risk assessments can be used as a basis. The assessments should be reviewed and modified as required.

Staff and students have a duty not to put themselves or others at risk by their actions or omissions.

Home working

Certain members of staff are permitted, from time to time, to carry out their duties for Oxford Brookes University from home. The Health and Safety Executive’s guidance on designated home working states that “most of the regulations made under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 apply to home workers

Guidelines which provide a framework within which employees and management can agree arrangements for working at or from home.


The Health & Safety (First-Aid) Regulations 1981 place a general responsibility on employers to provide appropriate first-aid facilities. If a lone worker sustains a minor injury, they may be able to use a first aid box or telephone for assistance. However, a more serious injury may mean that the worker cannot help him or herself or use the telephone.

  • Where more serious injuries are foreseeable then the absence of a colleague to administer or at least organise help could be construed as insufficient first-aid cover. This hazard should be highlighted and controlled in the risk assessment.


Training is particularly important where there is limited supervision to control, guide and help the individual in situations of uncertainty.  It may be critical to avoid panic reactions in unusual situations.  Lone workers need to understand fully the risks involved in the work, the necessary precautions and be sufficiently experienced. Deans of Faculties/Directors of Directorates should establish clear procedures to set the limits to what can and cannot be done while working alone.

Deans of Faculties/Directors of Directorates should ensure that written details are kept of specialist training provided and qualifications awarded to staffs engaged in lone working. These may range from simple records of verbal or practical instruction on, for e.g. emergency procedures to full training schedules for safe operation of machinery.

Adequate supervision

Although lone workers cannot be subject to constant supervision, it is still the duty of a Dean of Faculty/Director of Directorate to provide appropriate control of the work.  The extent of supervision required depends on the risks involved and the proficiency and experience of the worker (staff or student) to identify and handle safety issues.  Students, and staffs new to the job, undergoing training, doing a job which presents special risks, or dealing with new situations may need to be accompanied at first. The extent of supervision required is a decision for the Dean of Faculty/Director of Directorate. It should not be left to individuals (staff or students) to decide what level of advice, supervision or assistance they require.

Defined working limits

Deans of Faculties/Directors of Directorates should establish clear procedures to set limits of what can and what cannot be done while working alone.  Clearly this is impossible to define in general terms, but Deans of Faculties/Directors of Directorates should specify how to behave in circumstances which are new, unusual or beyond the scope of the individual's current state of training e.g. decide to stop work and seek the advice of a supervisor.

Emergency procedures

Lone workers should be capable of responding correctly in emergency situations. Emergency procedures should be established and lone workers trained to implement them. Information about emergency procedures should be given to lone contract workers who visit University premises.  Lone workers should have access to adequate first-aid facilities and mobile workers (e.g. drivers) should carry a first-aid kit suitable for treating minor injuries.  Following the risk assessment suitable systems should be devised to monitor the condition of lone workers.  In addition it is desirable to consider:

  • procedures where regular contact between the lone worker and supervision is maintained using either a telephone or radio; automatic warning devices which operate if specific signals are not received periodically from the lone worker e.g. systems for security staff.
  • other devices to raise the alarm in the event of an emergency; these devices might be operated manually or activated automatically by the absence of activity.
  • procedures where supervisors periodically visit and visually monitor people working alone.

Twenty four hour pooled computer rooms

There are several pooled computer rooms across the University's sites that have 24-hour access. 

  • All pooled computer rooms must display emergency contact information.

Issue: 5 August 2019