How many lone workers are attacked every day in the UK?

There are between 123 and 205 assaults every day on lone workers. That’s between 44,850 and 74,750 attacks each year. Instances of verbal abuse vary between 159 and 266 daily.

But these figures are tentative.

Contrary to what many websites claim, there are no specific numbers for Lone Workers in the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) or the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) “Violence at Work statistics”.

Even the NHS, despite its efforts to monitor the situation, doesn’t know how many assaults involved lone workers (NHS Protect 2015:8).

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) doesn’t even have a “lone worker” category, as a google search for this specific query shows:
  • lone worker site:https://www.ons.gov.uk/
  • lone working site:https://www.ons.gov.uk/

In other words most figures that can be found out there regarding “lone workers” are bogus and can not be traced back to any reliable source.

Consequently, all statistics regarding work-related violence for that category have to be extrapolated from research done on work-place violence as we’ll show later.

That state of confusion has to do, partly, with the fact that the label “lone worker” covers such a wide range of situations.


What is a lone worker ?


While the Office for National Statistics doesn’t have a definition for “lone worker”, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) defines Lone workers as anyone who “works by themselves without close or direct supervision”.

So if you work from home one day a week, you’re a lone worker (one day a week) without even knowing it.

Similarly, many people who work without direct supervision are also lone workers. For example:
  • someone working alone in a petrol station or shop (e.g. betting shop)
  • one working alone outside normal working hours such as cleaners or maintenance staff
  • service workers such as your postman/postwoman

Any situation in which someone works without a colleague nearby or when someone is working out of sight or earshot of another colleague (NHS Protect 2015)

The overarching principle must be that lone working can occur anywhere, at anytime and within any group of staff.” (ABHB 2013:4).

Lone-working is predominant in some industries. Here are a few examples:
  • Housing: estate agents conducting house viewings, service staff inspecting and maintaining properties
  • Social care: care staff administering patient care in their homes, community care workers, probation officers
  • Healthcare: doctors and nurses, support staff, maintenance and cleaning staff
  • Security: overnight site security, some events security

With the generalisation of remote-working and the gig economy, it is likely that the number of lone workers has increased across most industries.


What are lone workers more at risk from ?


The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) website highlights various risks without specifically quantifying them:
  • Stress and mental health
  • Accidents, particularly on the road
  • Violence

This is echoed by other organisations such as the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) in Ireland. The HSA website mentions that hazards that lone workers may encounter include:
  • Accidents or emergencies arising out of the work, including inadequate provision of first aid
  • Sudden illnesses
  • Inadequate provision of rest, hygiene and welfare facilities
  • hysical violence from members of the public and/or intruders

So violence, particularly physical, is clearly an area of concerns when it comes to lone working. In the retail industry, violence against staff is the number one issue (BRC 2022:18, 44).

According to Health and Safety Executive (HSE 2021:4), the non-fatal injuries reported under RIDDOR 2020/21 are as follow:



Although these statistics are not specific to lone working, they still gives an idea of the most common causes of accident in the workplace.

"many of the hazards that lone workers face are similar to those faced by other workers" (TUC 2009:2)

Acts of violence (i.e. physical assaults) are the fourth (or third according to LFS) most common kind of work-related accidents leading to non-fatal injuries (HSE 2021:9).


What is an act of violence?


Violence is defined by The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) as:
"Any incident in which a person is abused, threatened or assaulted in circumstances relating to their work. This can include verbal abuse or threats as well as physical attacks.” (HSE 2006:1)

The All Wales NHS Violence And Aggression Training Passport And Information Scheme (HIW 2005) is more specific and defines violence as:
"Any incident where staff are abused, threatened or assaulted in circumstances relating to their work, involving explicit or implicit challenge to their safety, well-being or health. This can incorporate some behaviours identified in harassment and bullying, for example verbal violence” (HIW 2005:4)

Verbal abuse and threats of violence are the most common types of incident. Physical attacks are comparatively rare.


Why are lone workers at risk of violence?


The risk of violence seems to be linked primarily to the type of job and lone-working is an aggravating factor.

Obviously someone working from home is not necessarily at a higher risk of violence than someone commuting to their workplace everyday.

The lack of nearby support from colleagues, however, means that lone workers may be less able to prevent an incident from occurring (HSE 2020b:8) or to cope in unexpected circumstances and with potential exposure to violence and aggression (HSE 2020b:11).

"Lone working does not always mean a higher risk of violence but it does make workers more vulnerable.” (HSE 2020b:8)

The Lone Working guide for safety representatives (TUC 2009:3) mentions that often the risks faced by lone workers will be the same as for other workers but also they may face increased or additional risk from violence and abuse from members of the public and theft/intruders among other things .

These points were highlighted by NHS Protect 2015 (2015:7). The analysis of incident data for NHS staff found that the proportion of lone workers sustaining injury from a physical assault was around 9% higher than for non-lone staff.

Additionally, the report states that:
  • the lack of nearby support from a colleague meant that lone workers might be unable to prevent an incident from occurring
  • if an incident occurs, lone workers were more limited in their ability to withdraw, defend themselves or restrain the assailant than they would be if they had colleagues present
  • the higher number of assaults reported to the police from lone workers is likely due to the severity of the incidents they experience

In other words, whilst many of the hazards that lone workers face are similar to those faced by other workers, being alone can make things worse.


Which lone-working occupations are more at risk of workplace violence?


A 2008 survey of safety representatives by the Trade Union Congress (TUC 2009:2) reported that the main sectors where lone working was considered a major hazard were:
  • Health services (48% of representatives)
  • Banking and Finance (45%)
  • Voluntary sector (42%)
  • Local government (41%)
  • Transport and communications (37%)
  • Construction (36%)

Although we don’t have specific statistics for lone working violence, the 2020 Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) indicates the most at risk occupations are, in descending order (HSE 2020a:6, Table 1):
  • protective service occupations (i.e. security staff, police officers, etc)
  • health and social care professionals (i.e. doctors, nurses, paramedics, etc)
  • managers
  • sales occupations
  • teaching and educational professionals
  • skilled agriculture and related trades
  • transport and mobile machine drivers

Protective service occupations and health and social care professionals are by far the most at risk of overall violence. Analysis of incident data carried out by NHS Protect 2015 confirmed that, compared to other sectors, health and social care staff are at increased risk of violence wherever they work.

Interestingly, though, the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) figures indicate that, whilst Protective service occupations are most at risk of assault, social care professionals and sales occupations are more at risk of threats (HSE 2020a:6, Table 1).

Other key factors of workplace violence include (HSE 2020b:8):
  • working in locations where there is a known high risk of violence
  • late evening or early morning work, when fewer workers are around
  • lone workers, such as security staff, who have authority over customers and are enforcing rules
  • people affected by alcohol or drugs
  • carrying money or valuable equipment

The Labour Force Survey also shows that around 9 out of every 10 workers who sustain an injury resulting from violence at work are employed in public services (HSE 2020a:9). This includes human health and social work activities, education and public administration and defence.


How many assaults every day? Crunching the numbers


As mentioned earlier, there are no official and precise figures on the number of daily attacks on lone workers. That’s because “lone worker” is not a formal category used by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

In order to have an estimate of the number of daily assaults on lone workers, we first need to have an idea of the total number of lone workers in the workforce.

Various analysis suggest that between 15% and 25% of the UK workforce undertakes some form of lone working:
  • The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) study of ONS figures suggests that up to 25% of the UK workforce undertakes some form of lone working.
  • Berg Insight, an independent industry analyst and consulting firm that provides research and analysis services, estimates that 15% of the workforce across the USA, Europe and Canada undertakes some form of lone working (Berg Insight 2021).
  • to put things in perspective, in 2015, 27% of NHS-England workforce was engaged in lone working according to figures gathered from NHS Protect 2015 (p.20: 332,468 lone workers) and NHS Workforce Statistics for 2015 (p.4: 1,218,911 total headcount).

So, at this point, it is fair to say that lone workers represent between 15% and 25% of the UK workforce. That represents between 5 and 9 millions people in the UK (as of Sept 2022, UK workforce was 35.8 millions according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS)).

Going back to HSE statistics on work-related violence, there were 307,000 victims of violence in 2019/20 (HSE 2020:4), of which:
  • 137,000 were assaulted
  • 189,000 were threatened

We can thus estimate that between 48,900 (15%) and 81,500 (25%) of them were lone workers, of which:
  • between 20,500 (15%) and 34,250 (25%) were assaulted
  • between 28,350 (15%) and 47,250 (25%) were threatened

This would mean that between 56 (20,500/365) and 94 (34,250/365) lone workers were physically attacked every day in 2019/20. And between 77 (28,350/365) and 129 (47,250/365) were verbally abused daily.

But people can be attacked several times so it is more relevant to focus on “incidents” rather than unique victims.

The Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) indicates that there were around 688,000 work-related violent incidents in 2019/20 (HSE 2020:3), of which:
  • 299,000 assaults
  • 389,000 threats

We can thus estimate that between 103,200 (15%) and 172,000 (25%) of them were lone workers, of which:
  • between 44,850 (15%) and 74,750 (25%) were assaulted
  • between 58,350 (15%) and 97,250 (25%) were threatened

From this, we can infer that there were between 123 and 205 daily assaults on lone workers in 2019/20. And there were between 159 and 266 instances of verbal abuse every day over the same period.

Training sessions designed to prevent and/or mitigate workplace violence incidents, including hands-on practice such as corporate self-defence and safety training programmes, are highly recommended for any business.


References

• ABHB (2013) Lone Working Policy and Guidance. Rev 04/16. Aneurin Bevan Health Board. Health and Safety. (Retrieved Oct 2022)
• Berg Insight (2021) Lone Worker Safety Solutions (1st Edition).
• BRC (2022) Crime Survey 2022 Report. British Retail Consortium. (Retrieved Oct 2022)
• BRC (2017) 2016 Retail Crime Survey. British Retail Consortium. (Retrieved Oct 2022)
• HIW (2005) All Wales NHS Violence And Aggression Training Passport And Information Scheme. Health in Wales. Welsh Assembly Government, Health and Safety Executive, NHS Wales. (Retrieved Oct 2022)
• HSE (2021) Kind of accident statistics in Great Britain, 2021. Data up to March 2021. Annual statistics. Published 16th December 2021. (Retrieved Oct 2022)
• HSE (2020a) Violence at Work statistics, 2020. Health and Safety Executive, (Retrieved Oct 2022)
• HSE (2020b) Protecting lone workers. How to manage the risks of working alone. Health and Safety Executive, INDG73. Rev4 03/20. (Retrieved Oct 2022)
• HSE (2006) Violence at work. A guide for employers. Health and Safety Executive INDG69. Rev 04/06. (Retrieved Oct 2022)
• NHS (2021) NHS Workforce Statistics - May 2021 (Including selected provisional statistics for June 2021). (Retrieved Oct 2022)
• NHS (2015) NHS Workforce Statistics - May 2015, Provisional Statistics. Health & Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC). (Retrieved Oct 2022)
• NHS Protect (2015) Lone worker estate mapping exercise Final report - July 2015. NHS Protect 2015. (Retrieved Oct 2022)
• TUC (2009) Lone Working: A guide for safety representatives. Trade Union Congress, Health and safety November 2009. (Retrieved Oct 2022)
• Vazquez N. (2019) Out of sight is not out of mind. IOSH Magazine, Sept 2019. Institution of Occupational Safety and Health. (Accessed Oct 2022)