Emergency response to work accident

Sadly there are certain situations when lone working has led to disaster. In 2006, mental health worker Ashleigh Ewing was stabbed to death by a schizophrenic client in his home. In 2013, Andrew Locovou was murdered by a customer while single-manning a betting shop late in the evening. Following these tragedies it has since been ruled that the organisations involved should have conducted more stringent risk assessments and lone working should not have been permitted.

Conversely, for many organisations lone working safely increases productivity, flexibility and reduces costs. 

So how can you assess when it’s ok to allow lone working – and when it’s not? 
Certain environments increase risk to employees where customers or the public are more likely to become upset, aggressive or take advantage of a lone worker.

Environments where alcohol, gambling and/or money are involved as well as sensitive social work, can cause sudden mood changes. It is often the lone worker who faces the backlash and are left dealing with the customer or patient on their own.

As I touched on earlier, there have been many examples of tragic attacks on lone workers in the news over the last 10 years. Here are just two examples:

Ashleigh Ewing 2006
In 2006, mental health charity worker, Ashleigh Ewing, was sent to the home of a paranoid schizophrenic to deliver him a letter informing him he was in debt.

Ronald Dixon, who had a known history of mental health issues, became angered and stabbed Ashleigh 39 times with kitchen knives and a pair of scissors. This was just months after Dixon had made an attempt to kill the Queen at Buckingham Palace.

Mental Health Matters had not carried out a risk assessment on Dixon for three years. Had a risk assessment been carried out and Dixon’s mental state taken into consideration, Ashleigh would not have been sent to his house alone and her tragic murder would have been avoided.

A report following the murder even stated: ‘It is the view of the panel that if a robust risk assessment had been completed including a consideration of the lone working policy…such lone working would have been abandoned and joint visits implemented.”

Andrew Locovou 2013
In 2010 Ladbrokes introduced single-manning as a way to reduce costs and increase profits. This meant that employees were expected to man a betting shop on their own for all or part of the working day. With shops typically being open until 10pm, this left employees alone late in the evening with potentially frustrated and desperate customers.

3 years after lone working was introduced, Andrew Locovou was brutally battered to death with a hammer whilst working alone. Shafique Ahmad Aarij had lost a large amount of money on the machines and, angered by the situation, murdered Locovou before stealing £296 from the shop till.

Shockingly, this was one of 10 serious attacks to Ladbrokes staff over this time. In 2015 another young worker was attacked, dragged to an unmonitored office, raped and left for dead by a customer after he too had lost a large amount of money.

Again both of these attacks would have been avoided had appropriate health and safety procedures been carried out by the business.

Allowing employees to work alone in a potentially dangerous environment was not the only failing which led to the death and rape of the two employees;

• Andrew had pressed a panic alarm in the store during the attack which went to the Head office but the police were not called.
• The rape victim stated afterwards that she had not been given any training and did not know what to do if a customer was losing a lot of money.

As a result, Ladbrokes are still facing court procedures 3 years on, a life has been lost and several others changed forever.

So how do you know if your workers are safe to work alone?

Clearly in the above examples lone working should not have been permitted and in some environments no matter how stringent the risk assessment or the safety measures put in place the risk is too great.

Conversely, for many organisations lone working safely increases productivity, flexibility and reduces costs.

So how can you assess the risks your lone workers and make the judgement call?

Risk Assessment

The first and most important step to determining whether your employees are safe to work alone, is carrying out a thorough risk assessment for each employee/environment as appropriate.

If the risks identified through the process are too high or uncontrollable you must not let your employees work alone under any circumstance.

If, however, steps can be taken to reduce risk to a controllable level, in line with legislation (see below) it may be safe to allow your employees to work alone, following the implementation of a strong lone worker policy.

Know your legislation

There are several laws which hold the employer responsible for protecting the safety of everyone in their employment:

– The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974
– The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999
– The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007

In the case that a lone worker is threatened, attacked or injured at work, legal procedures could cost the business in fines, resources and time, with cases taking months or even years to complete. In some cases, the employer could also face prosecution and imprisonment if they are found to be at fault. You can read our guide to UK law here

Training should always be provided to lone workers to allow them to handle any risks they may face. When working with customers alone, training should be given on recognising danger signs and de-escalating a situation.

Accurate and consistent monitoring is important in managing the safety of lone workers. Organisations should put systems and technology in place so that employees can quickly communicate with their employer and raise the alarm if needed. Businesses should also be aware of exactly where their staff are – it is not unusual for organisations to GPS track (with the employees consent) their lone working staff in order to monitor their safety and dispatch help immediately if needed.

There must also be someone available to respond to incidents at ALL times. If your business operates outside of normal working hours, such as evenings and weekends, you could consider outsourcing your monitoring and response provision.

While we can learn from the tragic deaths of Ashleigh Ewing and Andrew Locovou, businesses cannot afford to wait for something like this to happen to them before taking action.

Make any necessary assessments and changes now before an incident occurs for the sake of your business and crucially, your employees.



  1. Bill Mc Dowall

    I have been instructed to have a woman who has worked with our organisation for 26 years and is now 71 years of age to work alone on a Tuesday and Wednesday till 10-30pm . As we approach Autumn and the night draw darker. Is this legal

    • Naomi Billington

      Hi Bill. Lone working in itself is not illegal. However, the organisation must carry out a risk assessment to decide whether lone working is safe, taking into consideration the individual as well as the work environment. If substantial risk to the employee is found but no actions are taken to eliminate or reduce risk, the organisation could legally be found to be at fault and face legal proceedings. Take a look at this guide from HSE for more guidance – http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg73.pdf

  2. Pete

    Hi We have 2 factory’s and we have 1 person working in one factory and 2 in the other factory. One factory is working with big machines and is it against the law for him wrk on is own

    • Naomi Billington

      Hi Pete! It is not illegal for anyone to work alone. However, you must risk assess the work environment and make sure you eliminate or minimise any risk so that the work environment is safe for him. Legally, the business could be at fault is any worker is injured if sufficient safe practices have not been put in place. For more guidance take a look at this guide from HSE – http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg73.pdf

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