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Last updated: 21.06.2023

We must minimise the harm and hazards of working alone

Working alone is not harmful in itself, but it may result in various harms and hazards.

Many service sector workplaces include lone working. Workers who are not in contact with their workplace’s other workers are also considered to be working alone. Other people present in the workplace (customers, patients, etc.) are not a replacement for workmates.  

Lone working is not harmful in itself, but it may result in various harms and hazards. Lone working causes psychosocial stress and may involve a pronounced risk of accidents or violence. In addition, people working alone have a harder time taking breaks. 

Psychosocial stress in lone working 

When we work alone, we are under increased psychosocial stress. This may be manifested as a fear of violence, for example. If there have been violent incidents at or around a workplace, the workers may feel unsafe at work.  

Inexperienced workers may also fear making a mistake when they have no workmates to turn to for help. 

Employers must assess the stress caused by lone working to workers on a case-by-case basis. Heavy stress may be caused by a recent violent incident, for example.   

Risk of accidents in lone working 

Working alone may pose the risk of harm or hazards when using dangerous machines and or hazardous working methods in conditions that have an elevated risk of serious accidents, for example. Working alone means that help is harder to find and may take longer to arrive. 

Risk of violence in lone working 

In certain jobs, working alone is considered to increase the risk of violence. An elevated risk is present when working  

  • in the evening or at night 
  • in spaces with unrestricted access 
  • in a customer’s home  
  • in areas with high rates of violence and crime 
  • with drunk customers 
  • involving the handling or guarding of pharmaceuticals, cash, or other valuable property. 

Alerting help when working alone 

Workers who are working alone must have a means of calling for help. The employer must arrange the appropriate equipment for workers to alert help from their workstation. Personal phones are not adequate for this purpose.  

Breaks in lone working 

Some collective agreements allow breaks to be taken simultaneously with work. Employers must make it possible for their workers to take breaks for eating (ruokatauko) and brief rest (kahvitauko, “coffee break”). If the volume of customers is too high for workers to take their breaks uninterrupted, an alternative arrangement must be made: substitutes, closing the workplace, etc. 

Predicting the harms of lone working 

When planning work, employers must ensure that lone working does not pose a risk of harm or hazards to workers. Risks must be assessed periodically in industrial cooperation.  

Harmful effects may be reduced by reducing the time spent working alone, for example. To make lone working safe, changes may be required in the working environment, work arrangements, and tools. Organising guards for high-risk hours may help reduce the stress caused by the threat of violence.  

Workers must be inducted to lone working. Workers will feel less stressed if they are confident in their ability to work safely and act correctly in case of incidents.  

The occupational health and safety authorities may issue a decision to forbid lone working if it poses a direct and immediate threat to the health and safety of workers. The feasibility of lone working must be assessed especially if the workplace has suffered multiple threats or robberies in a short span of time and no alternative arrangements can be made to guarantee the safety of the workers.  

Young workers (under 18) may not be left to work alone if their work involves an apparent risk of accidents or violence. 

Useful links 

See also