Working alone has been a safety concern for lone workers, safety managers, and organizations for years. In a 2004 post from Industrial Safety & Hygiene News, the following two real-life incidents show there are various environments and jobs where lone work happens.
“In one case, an employee was injured while working alone in a far corner of the warehouse cleaning up the area for about four hours. He was exposed to moving machinery, electrical equipment, harsh chemicals, excessive noise, heat, and vermin such as spiders. In addition, we learned that this employee has hearing loss and could not hear the emergency alarm if it had sounded.”
“…one of their foresters did not return to the camp one day after being in the forest by himself. No one missed him until the next day when he did not show up for work because he lived alone. After checking with relatives and his favorite watering holes, a search team was sent out. Several days later the search team found the worker’s body; he had suffered a stroke while in the woods…”
Lone workers are employees who fit one or more of the following criteria:
- Work by themselves indoors or outdoors.
- Drive to and work in remote locations solo.
- Work in a building, plant, warehouse or other spot where they are out of sight and earshot from others.
- Work off hours or outside of normal business hours; i.e. security staff, workers on the night-shift.
- Work with the public either solo or in a remote location; i.e. real estate agents, traveling healthcare staff.
Know the Risks
Who is at Risk?
- Those in fixed establishments where only one person works on the premises, e.g. in small workshops, kiosks, gas stations, shops and home-workers.
- People who work separately from others, e.g. in factories, warehouses, some research and training establishments, gyms, or fairgrounds.
- People who work outside normal hours, e.g. cleaners, security, special production, maintenance or repair staff, etc.
- People who work away from their fixed base, e.g. on construction, plant installation, maintenance and cleaning work, electrical repairs, lift repairs, painting and decorating, vehicle recovery, etc.
- Agricultural and forestry workers.
- Service workers, e.g. rent collectors, postal staff, social workers and home-health personnel, pest control workers, drivers, engineers, architects, real estate agents, sales representatives and similar professionals visiting domestic and commercial premises. https://www.hsa.ie/eng/Topics/Hazards/Lone_Workers/
What are the Risks?
- Sudden illness or accident
- Violence, threats, or abuse
- Theft or intruders
- Driving related incidents
- Working on elevated surfaces
- Working in confined spaces
- Working with or around hazardous energy
- Working with or around toxic/hazardous substances
- Doing highway or road work
- Maritime work
Be a Better Supervisor
Remedies and Prevention
If you have lone workers, then you must have a Lone Worker Policy. A good place to start putting your policy together is determining which tasks must not be done working alone and which are safe for lone workers – if certain conditions exist or have been met. Build your Lone Worker Policy around this information. Your policy should be able to answer the following questions, at a minimum:
- When is an employee considered a lone worker and how is his or her safety monitored?
- What are the hazards lone workers face (conduct a hazard assessment to determine).
- Nature of the job/task
- Who the worker will encounter
- Time, place, location
- What kinds of injuries could occur? Take time to think of worst-case-scenario possibilities and response.
- How often should check-ins occur?
- What is an acceptable amount of time a lone worker should be made to wait for contact and care in an emergency?
- Minutes, hours, days?
- What safeguards are currently in place? Examples: standard processes, PPE, monitoring devices, communication plan.
- Are these safeguards enough?
- Are they the right/best type for the situation?