With our guide on OSHA working alone laws. Learn about employer responsibilities, employee rights, risk assessments, and creating a safety policy to...
What is a lone worker?
When you think of workplace safety, you often picture busy offices or bustling work sites filled with coworkers. However, many workers in various industries find themselves working alone, with no one around to see or hear them. These individuals are known as lone workers, and their unique working conditions create an elevated level of risk, requiring special consideration and precautions to help ensure their safety.
Who can qualify as a lone worker?
Lone workers, or mobile workers, carry out their work by themselves without close or direct supervision. This doesn’t necessarily imply that they are physically isolated, but rather that they are in a separate location from the rest of their team or management. The International Data Corporation (IDC) estimates that there are over 1.3 billion lone or mobile workers working independently throughout the world, all found in a range of industries, from healthcare and social work to oil and gas and utilities.
The safety of your lone workers should always be of the utmost importance. It is your legal and ethical obligation to provide a safe working environment for your employees, regardless of the circumstances or conditions. Furthermore, ensuring the safety of lone workers can have significant benefits for employers, which we will cover in more detail later.
There are several industries and job roles where lone working is common. Many of the jobs performed by lone workers are essential not only to businesses but also to society as a whole. Equipment technicians and operators maintain critical infrastructure, linemen and electricians ensure we are never without power, homecare professionals compassionately attend to individuals, and police officers uphold public order. In these roles, individuals frequently find themselves working alone in remote areas, facing conditions that make their daily tasks riskier than in other industries
The importance of lone worker safety
As businesses and organizations adapt and progress, their working practices undergo continuous evolution. One particular practice that has emerged is lone working, which presents distinct challenges for employers, including the need for specialized safety considerations due to the unique risks involved.
Addressing lone worker safety is crucial for several reasons. First and foremost, as we previously mentioned, it is a legal requirement. This means that as an employer, you are legally obliged to provide a safe working environment for your employees, whether they work alone or in a team.
Neglecting this responsibility can have serious consequences, including considerable fines and legal action. For instance, workplace violence alone has been estimated to cost the United States $151 billion per year, with an average of $250,000 per incident. It’s also worth remembering that these figures do not capture the intangible but equally impactful costs of workplace violence-related incidents that are addressed below.
The consequences of neglecting lone worker safety
Neglecting the importance of lone worker safety can have serious repercussions for both employees and employers. The potential consequences of failing to prioritize lone worker safety include:
- Higher risk of accidents and injuries: Working alone increases the risk of injuries and fatalities due to lack of immediate assistance or supervision.
- Mental distress: Working alone can lead to increased stress levels, which can have an impact on the overall well-being of the individual.
- Reduced morale and engagement: Employees who feel unsafe or unsupported are more likely to experience stress, anxiety, and burnout.
- Decreased productivity: The fear of personal safety will have a negative effect on productivity and efficiency.
- Increased absenteeism: Employees may be more inclined to take time off due to concerns about their well-being.
- Higher turnover rates: Workers who feel unsafe or unsupported are more likely to seek alternative employment.
- Negative impact on employer reputation: Word spreads quickly, and potential employees will be hesitant to join a company that has a bad reputation.
- Difficulty attracting top talent: Highly skilled and sought-after workers will likely choose companies that prioritize their well-being and safety.
Identifying and addressing lone worker hazards and safety risks
When it comes to the hazards associated with working alone, two primary themes emerge. Firstly, there are job-related hazards that exist due to working alone. A notable example is the risk posed by motor vehicle and transportation incidents, which account for 38% of workplace fatalities, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Secondly, some hazards become more risky due to the inherent isolation of lone working, particularly in terms of physical, environmental, and social hazards. Workplace violence, which contributes to 15% of workplace fatalities, poses an escalating risk when working alone.
Lone workers face various hazards that can jeopardize their well-being and overall safety, whether they are operating in remote areas, after-hours, or in isolated environments. These hazards encompass a wide range, including environmental, social, physical, and other potential risks. Let’s take a closer look at the main types.
Workplace incidents such as slips, trips, and falls are among the most prevalent physical hazards. In 2020, slips, trips, and falls accounted for just over one-third of the workplace deaths in the construction industry, which made up more than one in five workplace deaths, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. The combination of slips, trips, and falls with the remote and solitary nature of lone work can amplify their severity.
Depending on the industry, or line of work, you will have to consider a range of other physical hazards, such as handling heavy machinery or equipment.
Lone and mobile workers often find themselves traveling from one location to another. Working in these ever-changing environments comes with a number of unique hazards that you need to consider. Environmental hazards such as exposure to extreme temperatures, unpredictable weather patterns, dangerous terrain, and limited cellular connectivity can not only impact the worker’s ability to do their job but also put their health and safety at risk.
Although often not considered, there is a range of psychological hazards associated with lone working. Stress, anxiety, and depression can be the result of long periods of isolation, uncertainty, and high-pressure situations, common among lone workers. These hazards can have serious impacts on the worker's mental health and well-being and can also affect their ability to perform their job effectively. This is why burnout is so common among workers within these industries. This is why it is important to implement a cognitive impairment test and prevent fatalities caused by these different mental and cognitive factors.
Workplace violence is another significant hazard that lone workers can face, particularly in industries such as healthcare and social work where workers typically visit client homes and run the risk of running into hostile patients or family members. In fact, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, healthcare, and social service industries have the greatest rates of workplace violence injuries, with workers in these industries being five times more likely to be injured than other workers. The people that these lone workers have to deal with can be unpredictable from time to time, which means that workplace violence is all too common.
Potential risks and challenges faced by lone workers
While lone working has its benefits, it also exposes workers to a multitude of potential risks and challenges. These are often difficult to solve, as traditional forms of safety and security can be inefficient. Some potential hazards include:
- Limited access to support and assistance.
- Reduced visibility and communication with colleagues.
- Inability to raise an alarm in an emergency situation.
- Limited access to training and development opportunities.
- Increased likelihood of fatigue and burnout.
Strategies for mitigating risks and ensuring worker safety
Workplace health and safety is a critical issue that affects millions of people worldwide. According to a 2021 World Health Organization (WHO) report, nearly two million work-related deaths occur each year globally, while half a billion nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses are reported. Shockingly, most of these events are preventable and can be attributed to a range of factors.
There are practical steps that you can take to mitigate the risks and ensure the safety and well-being of your employees.
- Risk assessments: Conducting regular risk assessments can help you identify potential hazards and risks, which can inform the development of control measures to minimize the likelihood of incidents occurring.
- Training and education: Providing lone workers as well as managers with extensive education can help them identify hazards, assess risks, and respond appropriately in an emergency.
- Communication and monitoring: Establishing regular communication channels with lone workers can help to maintain their safety and well-being. This can include regular check-ins, GPS monitoring, and custom emergency response protocols.
- Lone worker policy: Establishing a clear lone worker policy can help you manage risks and ensure compliance with relevant legislation and regulations. Lone worker policies should cover areas such as emergency response procedures, communication protocols, and reporting.
- Personal protective equipment (PPE): Providing lone workers with appropriate PPE, such as high-visibility clothing, protective gloves, and footwear, can help to mitigate physical hazards and reduce the risk of injury.
- Implement technology: By implementing a reliable and efficient lone worker safety solution, you can proactively mitigate, evaluate, and respond to any potential risks faced by your lone workers.
Implementing lone worker risk assessments
As an employer, ensuring the safety of your lone workers should be your top priority. This includes implementing a thorough risk assessment to identify potential hazards and taking the necessary steps to address them. Conducting risk assessments is not only a legal requirement, but it also ensures the safety and well-being of your employees. Performing an effective risk assessment involves several steps:
- Identify the hazards that may be present: This can include physical hazards such as machinery or equipment, environmental hazards like extreme temperatures or exposure to hazardous substances, and social risks such as violence or assault.
- Assess the level of risk associated with each one: Consider the likelihood of the hazard occurring and the severity of the potential consequences. Based on this assessment, you can determine which requires immediate attention and prioritize your risk mitigation efforts accordingly.
- Implement measures to mitigate the identified hazards: This can include providing PPE, implementing safe work procedures, or providing training to your lone workers.
Navigating lone worker regulations: OSHA
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is the governing body responsible for regulating workplace safety in the United States. OSHA has specific regulations related to lone workers, which require employers to identify and address potential hazards and risks associated with working alone.
One of the primary regulations affecting lone workers is the OSHA General Duty Clause, which requires you as an employer to provide a safe and healthy work environment for all employees, including those who work alone.
Employer responsibilities for compliance with OSHA regulations related to lone workers include:
- Conducting hazard assessments.
- Developing and implementing safety procedures and protocols.
- Providing appropriate safety training.
- Ensuring regular communication with lone workers for well-being and safety.
Best practices for compliance with OSHA lone worker regulations include:
- Check-in system for lone workers.
- Provision of appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE).
- Access to communication devices.
- Regular training on safety procedures and emergency response protocols.
What to look for in a lone worker safety solution
As organizations and industries continue to rely on lone workers to operate in isolated or remote environments, the importance of technology looks to be the answer to many safety concerns. Fortunately, advancements in technology have made it easier than ever before to monitor, communicate with, and provide assistance to lone workers in the event of an emergency.
The benefits of implementing technological solutions for lone worker safety include:
- Accident and injury prevention.
- Improved worker productivity.
- Enhanced worker morale.
- Sense of security and support.
By demonstrating a commitment to worker safety, you may be able to attract and retain talent as well as avoid potential legal or financial liabilities.
Of course, there are also considerations to keep in mind when implementing technological solutions. For example, some workers may be resistant to monitoring or communication devices due to concerns about privacy or autonomy. Additionally, these tools may require significant investments in terms of time, money, and training. You must carefully weigh these factors and ensure that any solutions you implement are tailored to the specific needs and circumstances of your workers.
Here at Aware360 we provide safety solutions that ensure your lone workers return home to their families at the end of the day. Our connected worker ecosystem is powered by the patented PeopleIoT™ platform that turns real-time data into business intelligence, designed to keep people in the center. With access to real-time data about workers’ activity, condition, location, and time, organizations can both drive preventative and proactive safety and enhance productivity across their workforce.
Our solution suite includes a selection of lone worker safety devices, which can range from wearable sensors that monitor the location of lone workers to motion sensors that detect falls or other physical distress. These various safety devices are equipped with features such as SOS alerting, and satellite communication, which help facilitate quick and potentially life-saving action.
Partner with Aware360: Your lone worker safety solution
We believe that every worker deserves to feel safe and supported while on the job, especially those who work alone. That's why our mission is to provide a comprehensive lone-worker safety solution that not only ensures the safety of your workers but also provides peace of mind for everyone involved.
Our lone worker safety solution is designed to address the unique safety challenges faced by employees who work alone in a variety of industries. Key capabilities of our solution include:
- Real-time monitoring and response.
- Advanced reporting.
- Customizable alerts.
- Two-way communication.
With these features and more, we can help keep your workers safe and connected, no matter where their job takes them.
Thanks to our technology your workers can feel confident that they will get help quickly in the event of an emergency. And you can rest easy knowing that your employees are being provided with the best possible support.
All in all, if you're looking for a comprehensive lone worker safety solution that prioritizes safety and security, look no further than Aware360. Get in touch with us today to keep your workers safe and connected on the job.