What is a lone worker?
A lone worker is anyone who works by themselves without any direct supervision; when they cannot be seen or heard by another person.
A lot of companies operate under the assumption that lone workers are only people working who are completely alone, needing a direct line of contact in the event of an unexpected occurrence. However, many legislative bodies have a different definition. They consider a lone worker to be anyone who is working without direct supervision from someone else in their company. For example, if an employee were to visit a customer's job site, even if there is another person there, they would work for a different company. Hence, the visiting employee is without direct supervision and would qualify as a lone worker.
This is a very important distinction, as many employees without direct supervision are still at risk for workplace violence. For instance, consider addictions counsellors; they aren't alone when they're working within a home setting, but they are certainly at risk. Many professions involve significant risk in their day-to-day responsibilities, whether it's working security overnight at a mine or working for the government in child services.
Why work alone?
In an ideal workplace, we would not have lone workers. The buddy system would thrive and the risk of incidents to those working alone would be greatly reduced. However, most organizations cannot afford to deploy two workers to do the job of one person.
Organizations deploy lone workers out of necessity to complete a job on time and on budget. To reduce the risk of working alone organizations must adhere to minimum safety standards in Canada, and in other countries like the US where lone worker safety standards are not as developed, organizations rely on industry best practices.
Who is a lone worker?
A lone worker can be anyone who fits the criteria above. The most common industries to find lone workers are
- Oil & Gas
- Renewable Energy
Who is most likely to be a lone worker?
In our experience monitoring lone workers, we’ve found the most likely people to work alone are those who work on-call and outside regular business hours. Take a lineman at a utility for example. When power is lost during a storm, an experienced linesman will get dispatched to the scene of the power outage to assess the damage before calling in a line crew. The first lineman to the scene is working alone without direct supervision and since he or she is in stormy conditions, the risk is even more severe.
What is the risk of being a lone worker?
The risk of working alone is that if an incident happens, whatever the incident is, can become dramatically more severe if you are unable to communicate it with others.
For example, an environmental scientist collecting samples from a remote water supply could be 20 kilometres removed from cellular service and while walking back to their truck they twist their ankle and can’t walk. If nobody knows their location, the simple twisted ankle is all of a sudden a very serious and compromising injury. However, if the lone worker has sufficient resources, like a satellite GPS device with two-way communication, the environmentalist can now request assistance.
What do lone workers need to be safe?
Any company with lone workers must satisfy the four minimum requirements for a lone worker procedure. The four minimum requirements are:
- Hazard assessment: Conduct hazard assessments and take measures to eliminate the hazard or minimize the risk from the hazard.
- 24/7 check-in: Establish a check-in procedure to ensure 24/7 contact is kept with all workers and a designated monitor is available.
- Two-way communication: Provide employees with two-way communication. If cellular phones are unreliable in particular areas, be sure to have alternative methods such as satellite technology.
- Location: Important to know the location of the employee as close to real-time as possible. Where appropriate, use security measures such as surveillance cameras, rounded mirrors, GPS technology, etc.
Grab our 5-step lone worker risk assessment by checking out this blog article.