Having employees work alone is often a necessary way to maintain a streamlined operation. Although there is some risk involved, it typically isn’t practical to work a buddy system in all situations. Working alone usually doesn’t make tasks any MORE hazardous, but if something did go wrong, how would anyone know or be able to help?
From late-night retail workers, to security guards, industrial trades and those who drive for a living, anyone who works out of sight and earshot of co-workers is at risk if an accident happens. This article will focus on trades including construction, manufacturing, logging and the oil & gas industries.
Part 28 of the Occupational Health & Safety Act requires employers to specifically address the issue of working alone and to take active steps to ensure the safety of workers. Fore more information, visit http://www.labour.gov.on.ca/english/hs/pubs/ohsa
- Make working alone a specific part of your written safety planning. Don’t assume that your regular procedures will apply to isolated workers in cases of emergency or evacuation.
- As working alone is a regulated procedure, be sure to consult with local authorities to ensure that you are fully compliant with all operational rules
As you would with any other safety guidelines, create a comprehensive outline that addresses all aspects of your plan, including:
- Specific risk assessment
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
- Engineering controls to eliminate or reduce job task risk
- Site inspections
- Equipment maintenance
- Communications protocol
- Rules enforcement & management
- Consider the history of past safety issues and ‘near misses’ that could apply to those working alone. Gathering feedback from front line workers can also add valuable insight.
- Create a specific emergency plan to quickly respond in cases where communication is lost with isolated workers or they do not meet their regular check-in times
There are a variety of things that companies can do to ensure that the risk for those working in isolation is eliminated or reduced.
- When assessing risk, pay extra attention to job tasks that present higher levels of danger. These would include working at heights, in confined spaces, with high-voltage electricity, heavy equipment, power tools and saws or with hazardous or pressurized substances.
- Specialized training is critical for those employees who work alone AND for their supervisors. Depending on the nature of the work and location of the jobsite, there will be specific elements that need to be addressed including communications, transportation, environmental conditions and outdoor survival, fatigue, recognizing risk factors, site evacuation and emergency first aid.
- To help ensure quick response in case of an emergency, schedule higher risk tasks during normal business hours, or when other workers are present
Communication is the key to ensuring the safety of workers who are operating on their own. Whether you are working on the same job site (but out of sight from co-workers) or miles away in a remote location, your regular check-in protocol must be strictly followed.
- Create a formal check-in procedure with pre-determined call times or meeting points
- Create daily work plans & assignments
- Document all worker check-ins & times
- Assign one primary person for check-ins & include back-ups
- Increase communication frequency for higher-risk activities
- Pre-determine the length of time workers will be on their own & the scheduled return times
Depending on the nature of the work and the location, establish the most reliable method of communications technology (based on physical limitations) and include back-up systems where possible.
- For convenience, use a call system using either landlines or mobile phones
- For more remote locations, use a hand-held satellite radio or a base-station radio to stay in-touch
- In addition to phones and radios, there are wireless, monitored panic alarm systems available that are worn on the worker and are activated in cases of emergency. Some models include a ‘person down’ feature, simple messaging and GPS locators for easier tracking
- Whatever method of communications you use, be sure to maintain the equipment, always have fresh batteries available and test the system regularly
- Where possible, include visual checks of lone workers by supervisors or other crewmembers
- Your tools and equipment should always be in good repair, but their maintenance and condition is even more important for those workers out on their own. If something is ‘an accident just waiting to happen’, you don’t want it happening to a lone worker.
- Always determine if workers who are assigned to work alone have any pre-existing medical conditions (heart etc.) that could prove to be a problem if help isn’t readily available.
- Where practical, install CCTV cameras to be able to monitor remote worker activity and to be able to respond quickly in emergency situations.
- Ensure that first aid and emergency supplies are available and accessible on-site, and that lone workers have been properly trained in their use. This is critical in cases where distance or remote access may cause delays with medical assistance arriving.
At times, there’s just no getting around that fact that workers need to perform certain tasks on their own. The added risks of working alone though, can be easily minimized by following industry regulations and implementing a formal safety plan.