Thanks to evolving mobile technologies and entirely new kinds of work, approximately 25 million employees now work alone across North America, but their employers are not always keeping them safe.
Some of these workers travel to remote locations to monitor or maintain equipment. Others may be employed as security guards, safeguarding property and critical assets such as remotely located generators. The challenge for employers is not only how to keep these at-risk employees safe on the job, but also how to determine if they are actually working alone in the first place.
4 QUESTIONS YOU CAN USE TO ASSESS AT-RISK EMPLOYEES
There are four questions you can ask to identify lone workers in your organization. As well, we have identified five scenarios where employees are considered to be “at risk” and a plan must be developed and executed to help keep them safe.
EVERY JURISDICTION AROUND THE WORLD HAS RULES FOR KEEPING LONE WORKERS SAFE
The province of British Columbia, like many other jurisdictions around the world, has formally defined what it means to work alone.
“To work alone or in isolation” means to work in circumstances where assistance would not be readily available to the worker in case of an emergency, or in case the worker is injured or in ill health.
According to BC OSHA regulations:
The regulations go on to say that employers must establish procedures for checking the well-being of lone workers, no matter where they may be working.
For example, among other rules, the BC lone worker regulations state that safety procedures must include the time interval between checks and the procedure to follow in case the worker cannot be contacted, including provisions for emergency rescue.
5 WORK ALONE SCENARIOS
British Columbia’s rules are pretty typical, and the challenge is that many employers may not be aware that their employees are considered to be “working alone” under OSHA regulations.
This may be because the employers themselves are not familiar with the regulations. However, another common challenge is that, due to an increasingly mobile workforce, some employees may transition into a “work alone” role throughout the day, even if they work in teams the rest of the time.
1) EMPLOYEES WHO WORK IN THE FIELD
These workers are what we typically think of when we talk about lone workers: they work away from their home base on construction sites, in plant installations, doing maintenance, cleaning work, carrying out electrical repairs and doing other solitary work. These workers may also work in the resource sector, or in agriculture.
In this situation, it’s straightforward for employers to determine that they work alone and then develop procedures to keep them safe.
2) EMPLOYEES WHO WORK IN THE COMMUNITY
Once again, it’s easy to determine that these mobile workers are working alone. They could typically be service workers who collect rents and fees, postal workers, community nursing staff, real estate agents, sales representatives and similar professionals visiting domestic and commercial premises.
3) AFTER-HOURS WORK
Employees who work outside normal hours as cleaners, security guards, night shift workers, maintenance and repair staff, and similar occupations are considered to be lone workers. Once again it’s straightforward for employers to determine whether or not they work alone.
Employees who work in establishments where only one person works on the premises, such as in small workshops, kiosks, shops and even home workers are considered to be lone workers.
Typically, except for gas bar attendants and convenience store clerks, we do not think of an employee in a shop as being a lone worker. As a result, employers may not be aware of the obligation to develop and carry out procedures to guarantee their safety.
So, not only are employers risking running afoul of the law, they may not be providing their employees with a safe work environment.
5) BUSINESS EXECUTIVES
This last category of “at-risk” employment is not typically regarded as being a “lone worker” scenario. However, company executives, including management and sales staff will work alone from time to time, and therefore must be protected.
For example, business executives may travel by car to visit branch offices or to attend industry events. A lone worker check-in procedure must be implemented for these journeys. Sales staff or other employees traveling to visit client sites are also working alone at various times.
KEEPING AT-RISK WORKERS SAFE
Thanks to mobile devices, workers are frequently untethered from working in one physical space. Many employees will start to work alone for at least part of their workday. The challenge for employers is to identify these “at-risk” workers, and then to develop and implement meaningful procedures to keep them safe.
Being aware of this shift in work is the first step in addressing worker safety. After that, employers must determine what lone worker safety solution is most effective for their employees.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Paul Turner is VP of Sales and Marketing at Aware360, a leading end-to-end lone worker safety solutions provider. We help hundreds of businesses become more efficient, increase revenue and keep their employees safe.