Working Alone In The Utility Industry

Posted in Lone Worker Monitoring

Working Alone In The Utility Industry

The Utilities industry is an interesting case for working alone. There are more lone workers than the most obvious ones. This article will help you reshape and rethink your perceptions on working alone in the Utility industry. 

A couple of years ago, I attended the Safety2017 conference in Denver put off by the American Society of Safety Engineers. (Sidenote, last year's show was fantastic and busier than ever, so kudos to the organizers!) The keynote speaker for the luncheon on the last day was Vinh Glang, an entrepreneur and highly entertaining presenter who used magic as a metaphor to explain three essential truths to achieving success. As someone who has attended many conferences and sat through many keynotes staring at my empty plate willing dessert to arrive, I admit, I was skeptical of getting much value out of this one.

I could not have been more wrong. Vinh's presentation offered some valuable lessons that apply to success, and safety. His explanation of one of the most common magic tricks, mind reading, resonated with me as I was reminded of several conversations I had throughout the conference with safety professionals from the utility industry. Let me explain further with a little mind reading trick of my own!

Our image of working alone

I want you to close your eyes and conjure up an image of a lone worker in the utility industry. Think about what clothing or equipment that individual is wearing, their surroundings, and the tasks they are completing. Do you have a crystal clear image in your mind? If so, I want you to click on the following link.

Images of Lone Workers

Did it match the image in your mind?

For the vast majority of you, it will. Humans are astonishingly predictable, and magicians use this susceptibility to predict what we think in any number of scenarios. Of course, this is to the benefit of magicians. When it comes to safety in the utility industry, this can become a dangerous pitfall. We all see the lineworker as an obvious example of not only a potential lone worker, but one that faces significant risks in the line of duty: working at height, working with electricity, exposure to the elements, and so on.

Work alone questions to ask yourself

To develop a comprehensive lone worker strategy in the utility industry, we need to think outside the box and beyond the predictable. Think of all your employees across all regions and departments and ask yourself the following questions:

1. Does he or she spend time working in isolation, regardless of the work environment?
2. Does he or she travel alone, either by road or air?
3. Does he or she interact with customers in an off-site setting?
4. If he or she was incapacitated in any way, would it potentially go unnoticed for any length of time?
5. Is he or she at risk of violence in any way during the execution of their duties?

Types of lone workers in Utility industry

If the answer is yes to any one of these questions, this employee should be considered as part of your lone worker strategy. For a utility, this includes, but certainly is not limited to, the following:

Meter Readers
How do you know where your meter readers are at any point during the day? Is there a check-in protocol or GPS device? How do you know they made it back to the office, or home, at the end of their shift?

Collections Agents
If an agent is attacked or threatened by a customer, how do they signal for help? What if their phone is taken? How do you know their exact location?

When executives/managers fly to various operating regions, or to conferences, how do you know they have arrived safely? Will they be using rental vehicles and if so, how do you track their safety while operating this vehicle? Do they have the proper driver training for the road risks in that region? If they suffer a heart attack in a hotel room, how will you know that something has gone wrong?

Facility/Plant Operators
If an employee is isolated in one part of a facility, how do you know if he or she has been injured? Do staff perform periodic check-ins on each other? Are they prepared to deal with a potential health crisis?

Office Staff
If an office building has a receptionist alone at the front desk, how does he or she warn other employees of a potential intruder? How does he or she ask for help?

How do you monitor the safety of these employees in the field, particularly while driving, sometimes to remote sites, during inclement weather? If operating outside of cellular reception, do they have an alternate means of communication, such as a satellite enabled device? (This applies whether the lineworker is alone or with a colleague.) If they do require satellite devices, are they intrinsically safe and operable around electricity?

As you can see, developing a lone worker strategy for a utility is anything but predictable, and it touches all aspects of the organization. It covers employees working alone or with the public, teams working in isolation, employees who travel, it is intertwined with your safe driving policy, and so much more.

It may seem daunting to establish a process as comprehensive and exhaustive as this, and you may wish for a little magic of your own to make things easier. Fortunately, the experts at Telelink Emergency Response Centre have a few tricks up their sleeves! We have helped other utilities through this process, and we would be happy to help you. Check out our case study on how we helped NL Hydro create a safer workplace for their lone workers.


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