Working Alone Shouldn’t Mean Working at Risk

December 23, 2013 by  
Filed under Uncategorized

Millions of employees work away from their employer’s location. If some of them are yours, although you don’t see them every day, you’re still responsible for their safety and health.
Lone workers perform their jobs on the road, at client’s sites, in home offices, and other locations distant from your workplace. Some, like security guards and night maintenance employees, may work in and around your facility but still work alone.
Safety and health attorney Adele Abrams emphasizes, “Employers have to realize that they remain primarily responsible for their workers’ safety and health regardless of where the work is performed.”
Many believe that once they dispatch workers to a third-party location, the individual in charge of that site is responsible for overseeing and monitoring the employee’s safety. “That’s simply not the case,” Abrams says.
Familiar Formula
The Washington State Division of Occupational Safety and Health suggests a familiar approach for protecting off-site workers:
• Identify hazards of the work
• Assess the risks involved
• Put measures in place to avoid or control risks
Control Measures
Control measures can include instruction, training, supervision, PPE, and communication systems. Be sure to talk to workers directly about the risks they encounter and periodically conduct a more formal risk assessment.
To help determine if someone working alone is safe, ask the following questions:
• Does the workplace present a special risk to the worker?
• Is there a safe way in and out?
• Can temporary access equipment (such as portable ladders) be handled safely by one person?
• Are there chemicals or hazardous substances in use that may pose a risk to the worker?
• Does the job involve lifting objects too large for one person?
• Is more than one person needed to operate essential controls for the safe operation of equipment or workplace transport?
• Is there a risk of violence?
• Are young, pregnant, or disabled employees at risk if they work alone?
• If the lone worker’s first language is not English, are there arrangements to ensure clear communication, especially in an emergency?
• Is the worker medically fit to work alone?
Once these questions are answered, you should also do the following:
• Establish a check-in procedure.
• Provide a backup or buddy system when risk assessment shows it is not possible for the work to be done safely by one person.
• Inform the employer at a site where one of your employees is working of risks and control measures needed.
• Recognize that some high-risk activities cannot be performed solo. Examples include confined space work and electrical work near exposed live conductors
• Have employees meet clients in a safe location if there is a risk of violence.
• Instruct distant employees to keep a cell phone available at all times and to avoid entering any place or situation that feels unsafe.
Supervision of lone employees is challenging when the supervisor and the employee aren’t in the same place. However, in many cases, supervision can be done during site visits, and supervisor can also stay in touch via e-mail, text, phone, webcam, or radio.

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