There have been some recent horrific attacks on employees working alone or in pairs. Many employees in the UK work alone or apart from others in industries such as driving, security, cleaning, retail and hospitality services. Those working at night or early mornings seem particularly vulnerable.

Working alone is legal provided that the risks of doing so have been adequately assessed and addressed. Employers have a legal duty to ensure the health, safety and welfare at work of their employees, so far as is reasonably practicable. The starting point for discharging this duty is risk assessment.

A risk assessment must be carried out by a competent person. Consultation with employees is vital as they are the best source of information about the risks associated with a particular job. It should identify the hazards to which a lone worker may be exposed and the risk of those hazards occurring.

The assessment should consider whether the job can be safely carried out by one person. If that is the case, then safe working arrangements need to be put in place such as dealing with emergency situations, scheduling, supervision and personal safety arrangements.

Employers need to consider whether lone working is safe for certain classes of employees – it may not be suitable for people with certain medical conditions, young workers etc.

Employees need to be trained and provided with information so that they understand the generic risks of their work, any specific risks involved with a certain task and the safe working arrangements to be followed. Refresher training should be provided. Employers should also have systems for dealing with employees who may have experienced an incident at work.

It is important that risk assessments and working procedures are monitored on a regular basis to ensure that systems are effective, are being adhered to and to ensure that risks cannot be reduced further. Part of this will be a robust reporting procedure so that any incidents, however minor, can be reported to ascertain if trends are developing. Employers are already obliged to report certain accidents and dangerous occurrences.

Getting it wrong has many consequences – lives can be lost, staff morale can drop and there is the risk of prosecution. In the most serious of cases, that prosecution could be under the new corporate manslaughter legislation that came into force on 6 April 2008. Someone has to be prosecuted first. Don’t let it be you.