How many of you know of someone who works alone? How many jobs can you name that apply? We may be unaware that there are several types of occupations that fall into this range, and each one has certain hazards or risks. Some persons enjoy working alone, and for that reason, choose solitary jobs. If you are working alone, be ready to work as safely as possible when fulfilling your duties.
Those who work alone are grouped into five broad categories:
- Workers who handle cash, such as convenience store clerks, retail food outlet workers, taxi drivers, liquor store employees, jewelry store clerks, and some law enforcement officers.
- Workers who are at risk of violent attack because their workplace is isolated from public view. This includes security guards and custodians.
- Workers who travel away from base office to meet clients: sales workers, home care workers, social services workers and law enforcement officers.
- Workers who do hazardous work but have no routine interaction with customers or the public. This includes workers in the logging and oil and gas industries.
- Workers who travel alone but have no routine interaction with customers or the public. This includes truck drivers and business people in transit: deliverymen and mail carriers.
Each of these situations has different hazards and means of controlling them:
OSHA requires that employers must account for every employee having been checked on at regular intervals. They should be notified at the end of the job assignment or end of work shift. This should be done by sight or verbal communication.
Here are some ways to stay safe when working alone:
- Employers must assess the hazards of the workplace.
- Talk to workers about their work. Get their input about the work they do and possible solutions. Talk to your boss about how to minimize the hazards of the job.
- Investigate incidents at the workplace, and those from similar workplaces.
- Eligible employees could be given a personal locator beacon with GPS.
- Avoid having a lone worker whenever possible, especially for jobs with a known risk.
- Take corrective action to prevent or minimize the potential risks of working alone.
- Provide appropriate training and education.
- Report all situations, incidents or “near misses” where working alone increased the severity of the situation. Analyze this information and make changes to company policy where necessary. Ask for the “buddy system”, where you can take a coworker into high risk situations. Ensure that this system is available to employees.
- Establish a check-in procedure. Make sure regular contact is kept with all workers.
- Establish ways to account for people (visually or verbally) while they are working.
- For most lone workers, the telephone will be the main source of contact. If work is at a desk or station, have a telephone close by. If work is away from a main office or work station, keep your cell phone charged. If a cellular phone is unreliable in the area, be sure to have alternative methods of communication available (such as use of public telephones, site visits or satellite technology.
- Schedule high risk tasks during normal business hours, or when another worker is capable of helping if an emergency situation arises.
- Position workers, where possible, in locations of highest visibility; don’t allow store windows to be covered up with signs, in order to keep employees visible to the public.
- Use a security system such as video surveillance cameras, mirrors, observation windows, etc., however, ensure that informed consent is obtained from employees prior to use.
Other points for employers to consider:
Length of time the worker will be working alone:
What time of the day will the worker be alone?
- Is it legal for the worker to be alone while doing certain activities? (For example: In many jurisdictions, working alone in confined space or during lock-out/tag-out operations is restricted.).
- What is a reasonable length of time for the worker to be alone?
Communication: Is voice communication adequate, or is it necessary to “see” the work?
- What forms of communication are available?
- If the communication systems are located in a vehicle, do you need alternate arrangements to cover the worker when away from the vehicle?
Location of the work: Is the work in a remote or isolated location? (Remember, a remote location does not have to be far away. Storage rooms that are rarely used can be considered remote or isolated.) Transportation necessary to get there; if so, what type of transportation?
- What are the consequences if the vehicle breaks down?
- Is the vehicle equipped with emergency supplies such as – food, drinking water and a first aid kit?
- Will the worker have to leave the vehicle for long periods of time?
Type or nature of work:
- Is there adequate training and education provided for the worker to be able to work alone safely?
- Does the work include working with money or other valuables?
- If personal protective equipment is required, is it available, is it in good working order, and has the worker been trained in its use, care and storage?
- What machinery, tools or equipment will be used?
- Is there a high risk activity involved?
- Are there extremes of temperature?
- Is fatigue likely to be a factor?
- If the worker is working inside a locked building, how will emergency services be able to get in? (For example: a night cleaner in a secure office building.)
- Does the work involve seizing property or goods (such as repossession, recovering stolen property)?
- Is there risk of an animal attack, or poisoning/allergic reaction from insect/animal bites?
Characteristics of the individual who is working alone:
- Does the worker have experience and training? (For example: relevant administrative procedures, first aid, communication systems repair, vehicle breakdowns, and/or outdoor survival.)
- Are there pre-existing medical conditions that might increase the risk?
Most of us don’t think of being alone in an office a kind of danger. However, if this is the type of work that you do, check to see how many exits there are in your room? There should be at least two ways of escape if you feel threatened. Also, have a communication system with your home base or an employee working somewhere else in the building. We hear of “workplace violence”, and many times it happens in an office setting.
OSHA; Safety.BLR (Free Toolbox Safety Talks; Alberta Department of Human Resources