Four Problems Lone Workers Face and How to Solve Them

By: Ryan Cantwell, Contributor

By the time you finish reading this sentence, a person will have been hurt at work. By the time you sit down for dinner with your family, more than 14 people will have died on the job, leaving families and coworkers in mourning.

As a professional in the safety industry, you might already know these stats. After all, you’re responsible for your team’s safety, making sure they’re not injured on your watch. But “safety” is a broad area that expands to include more each year. 

When responsibilities grow, but your time and resources don’t, it can be hard to keep up with all the problems you need to solve. Our natural response is to focus on things we can control. Often, this looks like solving the most obvious problems first—taking care of the safety issues you can see on site. What’s left unaddressed, though, can still pose threats to workers. In fact, the safety threats you can’t see in the locations you don’t visit often pose the most risk to your people.

Take lone workers, for example. Lone workers are any people who are alone in a facility or who travel to remote worksites. Almost every industry has lone workers, but they’re most common in construction, utilities, oil and gas, agriculture, etc.

When lone workers encounter a threat, whether a gas hazard, dangerous weather or a medical emergency, they can’t rely on peers nearby to help. Lone workers face different challenges than their on-site peers, so you need to pay special attention to how you monitor their safety. 

Before you look for ways to improve their safety, you first need to understand the problems lone workers face.

Working in Remote Areas

Lone workers tend to frequent sites that are off the beaten path, often miles away from the nearest town. This means they don’t always have good cellular coverage. If they get hurt on the job and can’t call for help, the outlook is grim. Even if the injury is minor, and they are still able to drive, they likely won’t be near a hospital. Without appropriate safety plans, lone workers are truly on their own.

Manual Check-Ins

OSHA’s guidance on working alone states that employers should account for workers throughout each shift “at regular intervals appropriate to the job assignment to ensure the employee’s safety and health; and at the end of the job assignment or at the end of the work shift, whichever occurs first.” If this sounds vague, it’s because it is. 

Many companies have developed lone worker policies that require the person to check in with a supervisor every hour or two. While this is certainly better than no check in at all, it poses a few problems. First, stopping work every hour is disruptive and requires task switching, which can be damaging to productivity. 

Beyond that, a lot can happen in an hour. A lone worker could easily be hurt in the first five minutes after a check in, and you wouldn’t know for another 55 minutes. By then, it could be too late. And, if they lose cell coverage, they’re truly off the grid, and you won’t have any visibility into their safety.

No Peer Support

Most on-site workers have a few trusted peers they can ask for help when they need it. When they forget a procedure they previously trained on, they can always turn to someone nearby to jog their memory. Lone workers don’t have this luxury. They’re solely responsible for knowing exactly how to handle any situation that could arise. 

Outdated Safety Equipment

Cloud computing and wireless technologies have brought safety tools into the digital era, but safety policies and budgets haven’t necessarily caught up. There are products on the market today that can connect lone workers quickly and easily to resolve all of these challenges and more, but companies need to invest in them first. Unfortunately, lone workers can be forgotten when it comes time for upgrades—the old saying, “out of sight, out of mind,” rings true here. 

Solving the Lone Worker Challenge

Today, safety managers can gain real-time visibility when it comes to lone workers in remote areas through instant notifications in the event of a gas alarm, man-down or panic situation. (photo courtesy Industrial Scientific)

Looking out for the safety and well-being of your team is a huge responsibility, but it’s one you don’t have to shoulder alone. Many devices, including personal gas detectors, have connectivity features built in to solve lone worker challenges. 

Connected safety or live monitoring is the most popular solution because it relays information from the work alone device back to cloud-based software that you can access anywhere in the world. From this software, you can see automatic updates, including gas readings, location, whether the person is moving, and whether they have pressed a panic button to call for help. In an emergency, instant alerts with the person’s name, location and reason for the alarm make it easy to take the right action, fast. This gives the lone worker peace of mind that someone is always there to help. 

If a lone worker is exposed to a dangerous situation, how will you know? Managing a mobile workforce presents its own set of challenges in safety and production knowledge. Today, safety managers can gain real-time visibility when it comes to lone workers in remote areas through instant notifications in the event of a gas alarm, man-down or panic situation.

Although connectivity features are a tremendous step forward in protecting vulnerable employees, not all connected solutions deliver the same level of protection. Make sure your work-alone devices and monitoring solution includes cellular and satellite connectivity with automatic failover when a network is unavailable; integrates with your chosen live monitoring software; offers the features your workers need (panic button, gas detection, GPS tracking, etc.); and automatically uploads data in appropriate time intervals.

If you choose your lone worker monitoring system carefully, you can breathe easy, knowing you have complete visibility into what your workers are experiencing, even when they’re miles away. 

[Ryan Cantwell is a Senior Product Manager at Industrial Scientific who specializes in multi-gas monitors and lone worker monitoring solutions. To learn more about protecting your lone workers, visit www.indsci.com/lone-worker.]

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