people standing alone

Defining Your Lone Worker Safety Protocols

An increase in lone workers makes now the best time to update your policies.

The COVID-19 pandemic forever changed the way we work, by increasing the number of remote, mobile, and lone workers. According to Berg Insight, the user base of lone workers in North America and Europe was 1.1 million at the end of 2020. These numbers are only expected to increase in the coming years.

Working alone is inherently risky. If a worker encounters hazards while in the field, they are much more vulnerable than when working alongside others. With the increase in the number of people working alone, and in hazardous and isolated environments, making sure proper policies and procedures are in place is important to ensure every lone worker goes home at the end of the day.

In this article, we’ll define a lone worker, discuss best practices, and delve into how to construct a lone worker policy at any organization.

Defining Lone Workers

Lone workers are individuals with job duties that leave them isolated or working alone. Types of lone workers include repair technicians, drivers, construction and utility workers, and people working outside of normal hours, such as security guards and cleaners. These workers are considered more high-risk due to an inherent lack of supervision, and frequently face hazards that are unique to their responsibilities. To mitigate risk, oftentimes a tailored approach to lone workers’ safety is needed.

Best Practices

OSHA recommends when employing lone workers to adhere to best practices when accounting for each employee.

Specifically, OSHA states that employers should account for employees throughout each work shift at regular intervals to ensure the employee’s health and safety, or at least at the end of each work shift.

Knowing where employees are throughout the day is critical to support staff safety: plan for regular communication and check ins. Procedures should be in place to allow the employer to raise alarms if a lone worker has not reported back at pre-planned intervals. Ensure lone workers have a radio, cell phone, or other wireless device that can be used for communication; implementation of a buddy system can serve the same function.

With advances in technology, there are also ways to track your employees’ location while in the field.  This is most commonly done through the cell phone that they carry, an application, or GPS mapping on their company vehicle.

Understanding best practices is only one piece of the lone worker safety puzzle. To adhere to these standards and uphold them amongst workers, having a dedicated policy in place is the critical next step to ensuring worker safety.

Policy Considerations

After assessing the needs of the organization and staff, it might be time to draft and implement a lone worker safety policy. While this type of policy varies from organization to organization, the considerations are the same. Consider the following when crafting a lone worker policy.

  1. Frame the policy’s purpose: All lone worker safety policies serve the same purpose: to identify risk exposures faced by employees working on their own, and to clearly document implemented measures to mitigate risk and protect employees. Beyond that, define organizational commitments and goals that will be unique depending on the work and duties being performed.
  2. Define lone worker in the context of your organization: It is important for everyone in an organization to agree on what constitutes a lone worker. Use clear language to define the parameters of this category, such as someone who works alone at a job site or in the field where assistance is not readily available. Lone workers may also work in remote parts of a facility or during times when other staff are not present.
  3. Identify and evaluate risks and hazards: Regardless of where lone workers perform job duties, take the time to outline the hazards that may be encountered while on the job. Three key factors determine risk associated with lone workers: people, environment, and tasks. Consider who lone workers will be interacting with, where they will be, and what they will be doing. It is also helpful when drafting a policy to talk to or survey lone workers, evaluate job sites, and analyze recent losses.
  4. Address legislation: While Colorado state and local government workers are not covered by federal OSHA, it’s beneficial to address the regulations put forth by OSHA. These include:
  • 1915.84(a) 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.

Beyond the Policy

Beyond the implementation of a policy, any lone worker safety program revolves around a few key aspects for success: training, employee monitoring, and communication.

Lone workers should be trained and given adequate preparation before ever stepping foot into the field. Share risk assessments for each job function of a lone worker, so that these individuals can understand how to handle different scenarios, apply protocols, and manage an action plan in the event of an emergency. In addition, consider drafting standard operating procedures, which can be provided to lone workers during the onboarding process.

Training is not enough on its own to ensure the safety of lone workers. Organizations should also have procedures in place to monitor lone workers as part of an emergency communication plan.

An emergency communication plan provides lone workers with enough time to avoid, prepare for, or deal with situations that are high risk. The major components include the establishment of a dedicated team for planning and carrying out communication and emergency protocols, and enacting and reviewing mock drills. It addition, having supervisors periodically visit and observe lone workers can be a great way to round out the emergency communication plan. Active monitoring allows organizations to be proactive in the event of an emergency situation.

Finally, organizations can improve monitoring capabilities and incident management by incorporating mobile apps. Since workers already carry smartphones with them, mobile apps are handy for check-ins, and various phone operating systems may have safety features built in.

Resources for CSD Pool Members

CSD Pool members have free access to SmartNotice emergency communications software. With the push of a button, you can notify all lone workers to check-in, or warn them about inclement weather, hazards, or other situations.

Organizations should also integrate their incident management process to support lone workers and their policy. Incident management is important to identify gaps in the policy, standard operating procedure, and emergency communication plan.

CSD Pool members have special discounted access to Vector Solutions’ incident management software, Vector EHS. This is a mobile application that allows users to report accidents, complete safety forms on the go, conduct detailed safety incident inspections, and track and manage both hazards and resulting claims.

The CSD Pool also offers complimentary safety consultations. If you would like to discuss lone worker programs, emergency communication plans, or incident tracking to ensure your organization is up to speed, email safety@csdpool.org for more information.

Lone workers are an integral part of many organizations. Make sure a plan and complementary policies are in place to ensure their safety. With more workers becoming remote, isolated, or lone workers, now is the time to act.

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