In today’s world, the definition of “workplace” is changing. Many jobs can be performed remotely—with limited or no direct supervision. Lone workers may have home offices, travel and work from hotel rooms, or operate from remote locations. Some examples of situations where an employee is a lone worker include:
- Working at a remote location, such as construction or maintenance staff
- Working at home or traveling as part of his or her job responsibilities, such as sales, service, or delivery staff
- Working outside of normal business hours, such as cleaning or security staff
- Working at a job site, but separate from other workers with no method of communication, such as at a plant or warehouse
Concerns with lone worker safety include unnecessary exposure to hazards and risks, and limited visual or audible communication with someone who can summon assistance in the event of an accident, illness, or other emergency. While working alone is not necessarily unsafe, it can increase the risk of injury or exposure to other hazards. Therefore, it’s important to perform a risk assessment to identify potential hazards as well as controls to improve safety.
Establishing a Risk Assessment
Creating a detailed risk assessment of a lone worker’s duties can help to identify and prioritize risks the employee faces and measures to help protect him or her. Items to review include:
- Remoteness and isolation: Confirm that the employee can safely travel to and from the location; emergency services can approach the location without difficulty; and procedures are in place to handle “worst-case” situations.
- Workplace conditions: Confirm that there are ways to safely enter and exit the building; lighting, heating, and ventilation are adequate; all equipment can be accessed and used safely by one person; and all necessary fire precautions are in place and working.
- Potential hazards: Identify situation-specific risks, such as workplace location and job processes or equipment. Also consider aspects related to the individual worker, including his or her health, experience, work hours, and level of interaction with the public.
Providing Supervision and Controls
The extent of supervision depends on the level of risk associated with the job and the worker’s ability and experience. Supervisory measures include:
- Periodic site visits to the work environment to see if the risk assessment requires any revisions
- Maintaining regular communication with the worker, such as check-ins during his or her shift
- Equipping the worker with a means of two-way communication, such as a cell phone, pager, or personal alarm
- Providing training on emergency procedures, equipment, and basic first aid
- Using GPS to track vehicle location
- Providing any necessary personal protective equipment
- Maintaining personal alarms or monitoring systems that can be manually operated or activated automatically if a worker has an emergency or is in a dangerous situation
- Increasing security (e.g., secure access to location; lighting at entrances, exits, and parking lots)
With the proper safety equipment, training, and supervision, you can help your lone workers work safely.