Lone working
June 9, 2023

Lone working: Protective devices


As more people work alone, so do the potential risks.

These risks include violence, aggression, and falling ill while working unsupervised.

Stevie Goodman discusses the risks and various protective devices to mitigate them.

According to the Office of National Statistics, there are upto nine million lone workers in the UK. While working alone is not legally prohibited, employers are responsible for identifying hazards and assessing the potential risks involved under the Health and Safety at Work, etc Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

Lone workers are exposed to two types of risks: social risks, such as the threat of violence and aggression, and environmental risks, such as working in hazardous, unhygienic, or isolated conditions. To mitigate these risks, employers can provide training on personal safety, conflict management, and lone working, in addition to information and guidance on safe systems of work, effective communication and protective lone working devices.

‍The lone worker

So who classifies as a lone worker? Social workers, security guards, district nurses, transport workers, cleaners, laboratory staff, construction site workers and sales reps, to name but a few. Ever stayed later than everyone else in the office to complete an assignment before a deadline? Well on that occasion, you would classify as a lone worker. In essence, we all at some time in our working lives classify as a lone worker.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) defines lone workers as “those who work by themselves without close or direct supervision”. Lone workers are isolated from the normal support mechanisms that other fixed-based employees enjoy. Lone working may be for all or part of the working day. Some may experience lone working for short periods of their working days, eg office staff interviewing a potential employee or meeting a client, or a surveyor carrying out an inspection alone on-site.

The HSE estimates that it can cost between £17,000 and £19,000 on average to investigate a physical assault; however, the financial implications should an employee suffer a nasty assault can rise to hundreds of thousands in legal fees, claimant awards and lost time due to absence.

Protective devices

There are a number of innovative products available to assist lone workers on the market. With so many options, the process of choosing a lone worker device that is fit for purpose can be a task in itself.

Firstly, lone workers and the potential risks they are likely to be exposed to need to be identified: who are they and what do they do? A risk assessment will identify risks based on:

  • people — with whom may the lone worker come into contact?
  • environment — where the employee will be working
  • task — the job task they have to perform.

A risk assessment will also define the level of risk — low, medium or high — and take into account the existing measures in place to mitigate risk.

The right device

The type of device will depend on the user, nature of risks and where/how it will be used. For example, front facing lone workers are best suited to devices that are discreet, with easy to access panic buttons and recording capabilities. Mobile lone workers will be more likely to need a device that includes GPS, “man-down” and check-in/out functionality.

Employee buy-in is essential. Getting lone workers to have a say in the choices made will encourage use of any future device, highlight areas of safety that the wider organisation had not thought about and reaffirm the organisation’s efforts to keep employees safe while at work. Furthermore, users need to be comfortable using the chosen device and not made to feel like it is another way of tracking their whereabouts.

Lone working devices are sophisticated, offering a range of mechanisms and are available in an array of guises:

  • hand-held and pocket-sized, with one-touch panic alarm activation
  • ID badge style, worn around the neck, affixed to a waistband or belt loop. At the touch of an inconspicuous button or in the event of a lanyard being pulled either by the user or assailant, a discreet call is made to a nominated emergency contact or alarm receiving centre (ARC)
  • existing mobile phone system, with a designated “hot key”, eliminating the need for an additional device
  • smartphone and tablet apps, downloaded onto existing devices and compatible with Android, Blackberry, Symbian and Windows operating systems, providing real-time monitoring with live positional updates
  • digital pen, widely used by health and social care providers, triggering a location report and a live audio recording when an “alert box” is ticked on a piece of intelligent paper.

Typical functions and services include the following.

  • Panic alarm. Triggered when the user feels threatened or is attacked, summoning help from list of emergency contacts and the police.
  • Two-way audio. Enabling the user to communicate with emergency contacts if safe to do so, or for audio live recording to be captured by the receiver. Recordings can be used in court to prosecute assailants.
  • “Man-down”. Man-down devices automatically send an alarm to emergency contacts or ARC in the event of a fall or sudden impact.
  • GPS technology. Provides accurate location details of the user. GPS solutions can start from as low as £2 per person, per month using an existing mobile device and can locate lone workers even without a phone signal.
  • Alarm receiving centre. Outsourcing alerts to an experienced ARC eliminates the risk of alerts being missed by internal management and designated emergency contacts. ARCs operate on a 24/7, 365 days a year basis, with staff trained in responding to alarms. BS 5979 is the British Standard specifically relating to the standard of ARCs.
  • Delayed alarm. Allows the user to set an alarm to trigger in the future, useful if the lone worker device is likely to be out of reach for a period of time such as a mobile phone in a handbag. Future alarm time and details such as location and client are entered into the system ready to activate if the device is not disabled by the user.

The right provider

Before any product demonstration or trial is arranged, it is advisable to consider some key features. The battery life of any separate device is a crucial concern, especially for lone workers who are away from office sites and charging points.

If a BS 8484 (Code of Practice for the provision of lone worker device services) standard device is required, it is worth checking if the ARC personnel are competent on advising and supporting to BS 8484 standard. A provider should offer management reports to permit organisations to know who is using the device effectively, identify trends and ensure value for money.

Comprehensive face-to-face training prior to roll-out and on-going support is essential as lone workers need to feel confident when using the device. Confirmation of how accurate GPS location services are and the devices’ range should be checked before entering into a contract with a supplier, eg will signals be picked up underground or in busy locations? Quick response times are vital as an employer would want assurances that, should an employee be in danger, he or she will receive immediate assistance.

Evaluating the system

Finally, it's vital you test any system adopted to certify whether users are comfortable using the chosen device and, ultimately, that it offers the right fit for your business.


  • INDG73 Working Alone. Health and Safety Guidance on the Risks of Lone Working, HSE
  • BS 5979: 2007 Remote Centres Receiving Signals from Fire and Security Systems. Code of Practice, BSI
  • BS 8484: 2011 Provision of Lone Worker Device (LWD) Services. Code of Practice, BSI
Lone working: Protective devices