Many occupations require employees to spend hours alone, and sometimes in isolated or secluded areas. This may be a work hazard that is overlooked in many different job types. A solo worker is any employee who works in one location by themselves, or who travels to complete work duties. For example, a hospice nurse who works extensively from her own vehicle in rural areas in all seasons. This type of job exposes this individual to dangerous road hazards, weather hazards, and dangers presented by strangers in strange areas. These hazards are magnified for individuals working alone. Being isolated in unfamiliar areas can be incredibly dangerous. Make sure you have a system in place to ensure the safety of your solo worker employees.
What are you required to do?
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has very vague standards on what employers are required to do to protect lone workers. One rule from the OSHA website pertaining to shipyard workers states:
Except as provided in § 1915.51(c)(3) of this part, whenever an employee is working alone, such as in a confined space or isolated location, the employer shall account for each employee:
1915.84(a)(1) Throughout each work shift at regular intervals appropriate to the job assignment to ensure the employee's safety and health; and
1915.84(a)(2) At the end of the job assignment or at the end of the work shift, whichever occurs first.
1915.84(b) The employer shall account for each employee by sight or verbal communication.
As you can see, phrases such as “regular intervals” do not offer much of a guideline for employers to follow. ‘Regular intervals’ could be understood as twice a day, or once every few hours. Other than this ruling from shipyard regulations, OSHA doesn’t give us much to go on.
How can you keep improve lone worker safety?
Due to the lack of concrete standards offered by OSHA, it is important to set your own plans for maintaining contact with lone workers. Just because there is not a set requirement does not mean that employers should neglect their employee’s safety.
One way that employers can help reinforce lone worker safety is by way of technology. Smart phones have taken the world by storm. These devices offer a convenient and reliable way to keep employees and their supervisors on the same page, as well as maintain contact when separated. There are smart phone applications, such as the Stay Safe app, that can help solo employees maintain contact and have a lifeline in case of an emergency. These apps work in similar fashion to each other. The Stay Safe app, for example, allows employees to set their location, set duration of engagement, and mark when the engagement ends. Additionally, the app has a panic button that will alert the proper authorities as well as deliver the employee’s location via GPS. Applications like Stay Safe are versatile, easy to use, and can be used in any size company or business.
Employees can implement basic practices that can help decrease hazards created by being alone on the job. For example, doing everything possible to always send employees in pairs. When this is not an option, or is simply not feasible, then setting a direct line of communication, check in times, or other precautionary measures is recommended. If employees are expecting to be out on the road in isolated areas, especially in dangerous weather, then company vehicles should be equipped with emergency supplies. These supplies might include; a first aid kit, a flashlight, a blanket, and a shovel. Include anything your employee may need to equip them for emergencies when help may be many miles or hours away.
Focusing on lone workers safety strengthens one link in the chain that is your overall occupational safety program. Employers should seek to encourage a workplace where safety and accountability are first and foremost. Motivating your entire workforce to engage in this process is crucial. Adding number of days since last accident signs can go a long way in developing the ‘safety first’ atmosphere that should be paramount in every workplace.
There are many occupations across the country that require workers to spend many hours alone while on the job. When alone, even the smallest emergency or accident can be magnified. Make sure they are prepared. Assess the hazards your lone workers may face, and work to ensure your employees have the tools necessary to get them safely through any unexpected situations.