Justin Tyas examines a case in which a social housing provider was ordered to pay £112,000 after a lone working engineer was found dead on a housing estate.

A heating engineer with lone worker status checked in with his supervisor prior to undertaking a repair on a leaking communal boiler on a housing estate. The following day, his supervisor realised that no message had been received from the engineer checking out after completing his shift. Attempts to contact the engineer by phone were unsuccessful, so staff at the housing estate office were alerted. When they failed to find him at home, the search turned to the boiler room where they found the engineer’s body at the bottom of a scaffold. He had fallen from height and sustained serious head injuries; he was not found until the next day, when it was too late for medical assistance.

Lone working

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) defined lone workers as “those who work by themselves without close or direct supervision”.

This includes people working in a fixed establishment such as a factory, school or office environment who work alone for a significant period, as well as mobile employees working alone and away from a fixed base (peripatetic workers) such as estate agents, social workers, and maintenance/repair workers.

There is no legal prohibition on lone working and it is often safe. There may, however, be increased risks to the health and safety of employees and others when working alone. These include some high risk tasks that are too dangerous to undertake alone, such as confined space working and working on or near live electricity.

Falling from height is one of the most frequent causes of fatalities and major injuries in the UK.

Last reviewed 6 March 2015