Written by Daniel Aday, CompOne Administrators Safety & Loss Prevention Specialist
In almost all fields of work, employees may periodically find themselves working in situations where they are the only employee within the area. This could be anything from a single employee driving from one site to a specific job location, hours away, to an employee staying later than anyone else and having to close up the building at the end of day. These lone workers typically do not recognize their increased risk when putting themselves in these situations where there may not be any safe contact who can help with emergencies, or prevent and deter unwanted hazards. Increased hazards for a lone worker can range from simply not having an additional person who can assist with team-lifting heavier loads to not having someone to respond to a medical emergency such as a heart attack. Specific hazards may be dependent on the location and environment, and may change with time of day or season. Specific hazards, for example, may be significantly warmer climates where an employee is working outside and starts to exhibit signs of heat stroke, where others may not be present to recognize the early symptoms of this illness. Other specific hazards may be due to heightened crime rates in the area and having an employee be considered an “easy target” to a would-be perpetrator or criminal.
Prevention of lone workers can be rather hard to achieve. Several jobs require employees to be working by themselves either due to low demand or volume of the job, the inability to employ more workers for specific tasks or any of dozens of other reasons. Referencing the hierarchy of safety controls, the most effective means of controlling hazards is to eliminate the hazard, substitute with something safer, engineering controls, administrative controls, and personal protective equipment (PPE), respectively. This means, the most effective ways to control this inherent hazard is to eliminate working alone, substitute lone workers, or put in engineering controls – although none of these are feasible in most instances. This leaves us with the remaining two controls.
Administrative controls are fairly straightforward. This could be as simple as radio, phone or in-person check-ins on a predetermined time frame, such as 15 minute intervals during after-hours work sessions. Or, controlled areas, locked doors, not taking part in more hazardous activities during lone worker time or simply having periodic training of dos and don’ts while working alone. Whenever any means of administrative controls, or really any kind of controls, are used to address lone worker safety or any other hazard, procedures should be developed and taught to all affected employees. Training could consist of ensuring that you are always in contact with a colleague when traveling. Also, to have employees know that they must be more alert and aware of their surroundings and to have some pre-determined protocol of what to do when attempts to reach a lone worker go unanswered.
This brings us to our last control, personal protective equipment. PPE Controls may include lone worker devices that allow remote monitoring of employees who may be exposed to dangers. Some of these devices have been around for several years, such as panic buttons under desks that can activate a call to the nearest dispatch to alert them of a security emergency. Newer devices are designed around the ability to be mobile. While there are devices that are specific to the job, inexpensive but effective options may already be at your fingertips. A quick search on your phone’s app store will result in dozens of apps that range in price from free, to a small monthly fee. These apps allow someone to safely alert a designee of an emergency, make a call using limited button presses, allow for secure monitoring of workers exposed to environmental hazards or to allow the user to hold down a button until safely in their locked vehicle during late shifts.
While there is little regulation out there to enforce these rules to protect employees, employers have the duty to always protect their workers from any recognized hazard. For more information on Lone Worker Safety, please reach out to Dan at firstname.lastname@example.org.