The Biggest Safety Hazard Threatening Lone Workers

By: Gen Handley, Contributor

Do you work by yourself and away from other people sometimes? Are there periods during your workday when you are not in contact with anyone?

People who work alone and in isolation face a number of challenges that those performing their jobs in pairs or teams do not. Because of this, different safety measures and steps must be taken to address and mitigate the dangers lone workers can experience.

People who work at home and remotely are considered lone workers; an employee is considered a lone worker if they don’t have help readily available, should they experience an emergency while on the job. (photo courtesy Adobe Stock Images)

What is a Lone Worker?

No matter what they do or in what industry they work, an employee can be considered a lone worker when they do not have help readily available, should they experience an emergency while on the job. A lone worker can be categorized according to six types of work:

  • People who work at home and remotely
  • People who work at a remote or isolated site, such as security workers
  • People who frequently accept cash for their services or products, such as taxi drivers
  • People who travel alone but don’t interact with the public or customers, such as truck drivers
  • People who travel away from a central office but interact with the public and customers, such as home healthcare workers
  • People who perform hazardous work away from the public and customers, such as field-service operatives

So, a lone worker can look like you and me, but it is the unique set of circumstances that sets them apart.

Slips, Trips and Falls

So what is the most significant safety hazard facing your lone and remote workers? It is the dangerous group of slips, trips and falls which can occur in any industry; in any type of work; and in all work conditions. In fact, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reported, “18% of the 1,176,340 nonfatal work injuries resulting in days away from work in 2020 were related to slips, trips and falls.”

What makes lone workers more vulnerable to these types of injuries is that, if they do experience a dangerous fall, they do not have a coworker nearby to get help. However, as you read further, employers can leverage technology and other effective means to eliminate the need for the presence and aid of another employee.

Hazard Assessment

The first, big step to protecting lone workers is to look at your overall industrial hygiene, identifying the threats workers face by performing an exhaustive hazard assessment. This is a document that outlines all of the safety hazards lone workers are facing; the degree of risk they are facing with each hazard; as well as ways to proactively mitigate the hazards—before they can cause any harm or injury.

Remember, whenever there is change in the work, the employee, the environment and/or circumstances, a new hazard assessment may need to be performed, and the occupational health and safety (OHS) hazard list updated. For some organizations where there may be high employee turnover or a dynamic work environment due to weather, it is recommended they perform regular, monthly hazard assessments just to remain up-to-date on important industrial hygiene changes.

Use Fall Protection Technology & Devices

Over the past decade, we have seen an explosion of safety technology and devices in the OHS setting, providing access to fall protection that does not require the aid of another coworker. Using motion sensors on existing, common devices, like smartphones, lone worker safety apps can detect dangerous impact and falls, requesting immediate help, as well as send any pertinent information (i.e., the worker’s location and messages sent during the shift).

Of course, fall protection technology can also include systems which prevent workers from falling or reduce the severity of injury if a fall occurs. While not much has changed in this area, the simple harnesses, belts and lanyards have become much stronger and lighter, using advanced, more-durable materials over the years; the new materials are also abrasion- and
moisture-resistant—and much more comfortable.

While lone workers face unique dangers, employers can leverage technology and other effective means to eliminate the need for the presence and aid of another employee. (photo courtesy Adobe Stock Images)

Create a Check-In System

Following safety hazard and risk identification, the next step is to implement measures that will mitigate any workplace dangers. One of the most effective strategies is to employ a proactive check-in timer system that will confirm the lone worker’s safety. A check-in system requires the employee to check in at predetermined times or intervals to communicate they are safe and ok. If an employee fails to check in, an emergency alarm is sent to emergency contacts and monitors requesting help.

Check-in systems can be used manually by phone, email or even a spreadsheet. However, using current devices and technology, employers can now use automated check-in systems that eliminate the risk of human error, such as missed check-ins or missed requests for emergency help. Automated check-in systems also have other benefits, including improved internal communication and engagement.

Create Safety Policies & Strategies

Another effective step employers should take following their hazard assessment is to develop new safety policies and strategies that address the identified hazards. Strong, well-consulted and researched safety policy is the backbone of any strong safety program, especially one that has lone workers under its protective wing. While not the most exciting part of occupational health and safety, these policies act as valuable guides when navigating emergencies and safety challenges.

Engage Your Team

Staff engagement is absolutely integral to a safe workplace. Nobody within the organization understands and knows existing or potential workplace hazards better than those on the ground or in the homes performing the actual work. By engaging the team and lone workers through exercises, such as training sessions or workshops, they become active participants in not only their own safety, but the well-being of their fellow employees. A positive safety culture is where everyone has each other’s backs and not only benefits workplace safety and industrial hygiene, but productivity and happiness, as well.

The Future of Lone Work

Slips and falls will always be a significant safety hazard for those working alone and with others. However, the advantage that employers and employees have is that safety technology and OHS devices are becoming more effective and comprehensive, protecting more lone workers than ever.

Innovations in OHS technology are helping employers remain in communication with their people, no matter how remote, rugged or dangerous the situation may be. If you ever need to work alone or away from readily available help, use existing technologies to make sure you stay connected with someone who can.

Gen Handley is Marketing and Growth Coordinator with SafetyLine Lone Worker.

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