Working alone is common in many professions. Working alone refers to employees working in physical or social isolation without direct contact with other employees.
Physical isolation refers to employees who are not in contact with their colleagues. Other individuals present in the workplace, such as customers in a shop or patients in a hospital, are no substitute for colleagues.
Social isolation refers to employees who do not have access to the support of their work community. Employees can also be professionally isolated, if they are the only representative of their profession among a group of employees. This can happen, for example, if an employee works in the premises of another employer without other professionals present.
Hazards and risks associated with working alone
Working alone is not harmful or dangerous as such. Employees whose job requires a high level of concentration and precision can actually benefit from working alone. Examples include engineers, inspectors, artists and researchers.
However, working alone can be a risk if, for example, the job requires the use of dangerous machinery or hazardous work methods in circumstances where the probability of a serious injury is higher than average. Employees working alone cannot get help as quickly as others.
Employees who work alone can also be more vulnerable to violence. The risk of violence can be greater in certain jobs simply on the basis of employees working alone. Examples include security, teaching, nursing and retail.
Working alone can also be a psychosocial workload factor. Working alone or in social or physical isolation from the rest of the work community even for short periods of time can raise employees’ workloads, especially in the presence of other workload factors.
Assessing hazards and risks associated with working alone
The Finnish Occupational Safety and Health Act obligates employers to establish whether any of their employees work alone and assess whether their work entails evident hazards or risks to the employees’ safety or health. Particular attention must be given to the risks of injury and violence as well as the psychosocial workload factors involved in different work tasks.
Ways to reduce the risks associated with working alone
Employers can use the findings of their risk assessment to plan ways to eliminate or minimise the hazards or risks associated with working alone. Certain jobs also require special precautions from employers, if their employees perform these jobs alone and are therefore at risk. Examples include forestry work, retail and home-based care work.
If the risk of violence is increased by employees working alone, the Occupational Safety and Health Act obligates employers to prepare for violent and dangerous incidents and take steps to prevent them.
Employers have a duty to plan their employees’ work so that working alone does not put them in danger. The side effects of working alone can be mitigated by shortening the periods during which employees work alone. This can require changes in the physical work environment or in employees’ working hours. Special regulations can be introduced to ensure the safety of any tools and personal protective equipment used when working alone.
The hazards of working alone can be reduced by means of training and guidance. Training can help employees to cope better with the demands of their job. Employers have an obligation to ensure that their employees also follow instructions and safe procedures when working alone.
Communication and access to help
It is the employer’s duty to provide their employees with the means to communicate with others. The need for communication depends on the nature of the work, the circumstances and the location where the work is performed. The employer must be able to contact their employees and vice versa. Alternatively, employees can be given another point of contact, such as a colleague on call or a third party.
Employers must make sure that their employees have equipment suitable for calling for help. Employers also have a duty to call for help if they cannot reach their employee and there is reason to suspect that the employee has had an accident.
Circumstances in which working alone is prohibited
Pursuant to the Finnish Occupational Safety and Health Act, if a risk assessment shows that the hazards of working alone are too high in certain jobs or circumstances, working alone must not be permitted. Examples include firefighting, underwater construction and certain jobs performed in confined spaces. The safety of working alone also needs to be assessed if several threats have been made against the employer’s business or robberies committed in their premises in a short space of time and the safety of employees cannot be guaranteed by other means.Young people (under 18 years of age) are not permitted to work alone if there is a clear risk of injury or violence inherent in the work.
- Section 8 – Employer’s general duty to exercise care
- Section 10 – Analysis and assessment of the risks at work
- Section 27 – Threat of violence
- Section 29 – Lone working
- Section 3 – Especially harmful work