As an employer, you likely take every precaution possible to prevent your employees from getting injured on the job. Even if you do everything you can to minimize risks, though, there’s always a chance something unexpected will happen.
In these situations, other staff members working nearby will likely be able to help the employee. But what if that worker is on the job alone? Employers need a system in place to get these lone workers help when they need it.
Working alone can increase the amount of risk associated with even familiar tasks and could introduce unnecessary risk to a working environment. Employers and employees alike need to consider this when assessing hazards and implementing safety measures in work-alone situations.
We’re here to help you find the solution to keeping lone workers safe through our lone worker safety solutions. Let’s look at the hazards of lone working, how to address these risks and the rights and responsibilities of both employers and employees in lone worker situations.
What Is the Definition of a Lone Worker?
The Health and Safety Administration defines lone workers as people who “work by themselves without close or direct supervision.” A lot of different fields call for people to work alone. A lone worker might be a traveling nurse, a contractor, a cleaner or a security guard. When someone works alone, there is no one to help them when needed. This situation can be dangerous, especially when intruders or hazardous materials are involved. The following job titles may require working alone:
- Retail clerks
- Gas station attendants
- Taxi and bus drivers
- Sales representatives
- Home health aides or nurses
- Social workers
- Direct service professionals
- Security workers
- Skilled trade workers
- Maintenance workers
- Construction workers
- Forestry workers
- Factory workers
Some of the top occupations in 2017 that required little contact with others included:
- Computer programmers
- Truck drivers
- Laundry workers
- Tool setters
- Assemblers and fabricators
- Bus and truck mechanics
- Janitors and housekeeping cleaners
- Electrical and electronic equipment assemblers
Surprisingly, Some of the most dangerous lone occupations with the most on-the-job fatal injuries include:
- Truck drivers
- Construction workers
- Grounds maintenance workers
What Are the Hazards of Lone Working?
Whether or not an employee works alone, they face risks while on the job — especially if they work with heavy machinery or in a job that requires extensive physical exertion. Working alone can increase the risk associated with many incidents.
Workplace accidents can lead to injury or even death. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the most common causes of fatal workplace injuries are transportation accidents, violence from people or animals and falls and slips. There were 2083 fatal transportation accidents involving workers in 2016, 866 fatal violence incidents and 849 fatal slips and falls. Other common dangers are related to contact with objects and equipment, exposure to hazardous chemicals and fire and explosions.
Also, consider there were an estimated 332,198 robberies nationwide in 2016, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, or a robbery rate of 102.8 per 100,000 residents. Thousands of workers fall victim to robbery every year while on the job at convenience stores, gas stations and other non-residential locations such as smaller offices and specialty stores.
When employees work alone, these situations often become more dangerous. If an employee gets hurt in a vehicle accident, fall or other incident, they may not be able to get to a phone or radio due to their injury. If you’re a lone worker, no one is around to call an ambulance for you, get you out of harm’s way or help de-escalate a situation. Criminals may also be more likely to target someone who’s by themselves.
Although dangers vary with the type of job, the most common hazards of lone working include:
- Sudden illness
- Safety threats from others
So how can you, as an employer, keep an employee safe when so much can easily go wrong? You don’t need to hover over employees all day, but you do need to provide a way for them to reach help at any time. Also, if an employee is unable to alert you due to loss of consciousness or severe injury, there needs to be a system in place to alert you.
What Are the Laws on Lone Working?
While it is legal for employees to work alone, the law states that employers must account for each employee’s safety during their shift, whether or not the employee is working by themselves.
When an employee works alone, they still have all their legal rights intact. The only difference is that the employer has to compensate for the lack of supervision by maintaining safety standards. If you’re an employer, make sure all employees receive proper safety training and know what to do in the event of an emergency. Always have a way to communicate with your employees throughout their shift.
Also, there is no law stating employees are not allowed to work at night alone. In fact, many careers involve working the third shift alone, such as security work or work as an overnight caregiver. However, it is legally required that employees have the means to communicate with a supervisor at all times.
What Are an Employer’s Responsibilities Towards Lone Workers?
According to the OSHA, it is the employer’s responsibility to provide a safe workplace. An employer must:
- Provide an area that is free of known hazards
- Comply with safety regulations
- Inspect workplace conditions and ensure they comply with OSHA standards
- Make sure employees have and use safe tools
- Make sure employees maintain their equipment for safety
- Use signs, labels and color codes to warn employees of potential dangers
- Communicate with employees about established or updated operating procedures
- Provide safety training in a way employees can understand
- Provide medical exams and training when required according to OSHA
- Provide employees access to the log of work-related injuries and illnesses
- Provide personal protective equipment (PPE)
- Provide first-aid kits and training
But how does this apply to lone workers? Is it still the employer’s responsibility to maintain safety, even if they aren’t watching the employee? How can they control the environment without being present?
As an employer, you need to have a way to ensure employee safety whether you are physically present or not. It’s the law. According to OSHA:
- An employer shall account for an employee whenever an employee is working in isolation or within a confined space through each work shift.
- The employer shall account for each employee through sight or verbal communication at regular intervals to ensure the safety and health of the employee and at the end of the job or work shift (whichever comes first).
One of the exceptions is when an employee is welding in a confined space. In this instance, an employee is assigned to maintain communication with the worker and is responsible for taking action in an emergency.
OSHA’s set of rules isn’t very detailed. How does an employer know how often they should contact an employee? It depends on the job. For example, you don’t want to call your employee every 20 minutes when they are driving. That could be a safety hazard in itself. It’s up to you as the employer to establish when communication is appropriate — just always put safety first.
What are some ways an employer can keep a lone worker safe while abiding by the rules? Here are a few suggestions, according to the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries:
- Carry out risk assessments to decide if workers can safely do the work alone
- Provide emergency response training for lone workers
- Develop and communicate an easy-to-follow plan in case of emergency
- Establish rules of what is permitted during work hours while working alone
- Make sure supervisors visit lone workers on occasion to observe
- Make sure there is regular contact between lone workers and supervisors through a phone, radio or tracking device
- Provide safety tracking devices for workers to alert supervisors in case of an emergency
- Use devices that notify employers if an employee is unable to call for help
- Use a device that allows employees to confirm they completed a task and left the work site
Before an employer can determine how best to ensure lone worker safety, they need to assess the situation and the working conditions by conducting a working alone risk assessment. To start this assessment, they should identify all possible hazards and what can be done to control or eliminate those hazards. Then, they must answer the following questions:
- Can one person handle the risks of the job?
- Can a lone worker safely handle the necessary job-related equipment?
- Is there a risk of violence?
- How will the employee be supervised?
This information can help determine whether a task is safe for a lone worker. If a site is not suitable for an employee to work alone in, the employer should arrange for help from other employees. The next step is to choose the right employees for the job.
Before choosing an employee for a lone assignment, a manager must assess the employee by asking these questions:
- Has the employee received adequate training to do this work alone?
- Has the employee completed the necessary safety training?
- Can the employee handle situations beyond their scope of training, and do they know when to ask for help?
- Is the employee physically capable of performing the job alone?
Because conditions can change at any time, conducting dynamic risk assessments is another crucial part of lone work safety. A dynamic risk assessment considers circumstances and emergency situations that could happen as they are occurring. Although no one can predict the future, it’s good to imagine possibilities to help ensure employee safety. With a dynamic approach, you might:
- Continuously assess risks and what could change
- Evaluate the resources available and the issues that could arise due to resource availability
- Weigh the pros and cons of different plans of action
- Evaluate the chosen safety procedures to make sure employees understand them well
- Make sure responsibilities have been assigned to employees
- Make sure employees can identify risks
- Encourage feedback
It’s always smart to be prepared for the unknown. You never know when you or an employee will have to make important decisions fast. It’s essential that employers implement policies for working alone as a preventative measure before an incident occurs.
What Are Lone Workers’ Rights?
Lone workers have the same rights as those working with others. Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, workers have the right to:
- A safe workplace
- Confidentially file a complaint with OSHA to have their work inspected
- Receive information and training about hazards, safety and injury prevention
- Receive training in a language and vocabulary they can understand
- Review records of incidents and illnesses that occurred in their workplace
- Review copies of test results from workplace hazard assessments
- Receive copies of their workplace medical records
- Participate in OSHA inspections and speak to an inspector in private
- File a complaint against OSHA if they receive retaliation by their employer as a result of requesting an inspection
- File a complaint about receiving punishment for acting as a “whistleblower”
Workers who are not protected by this act include those who are:
- Immediate family members of farm employers
- Employees of other federally regulated agencies like the Department of Energy or Coast Guard
What Are the Rights of a Lone Worker Employer?
In addition to their responsibilities, employers have rights, whether they manage lone workers or a team of people. Those rights include:
- If OSHA issues you a citation, you have 15 working days from the date of the citation to contest the citation in writing.
- You may request an informal conference with a local OSHA director before contesting a citation.
- You have the right to take disciplinary measures in response to employee refusal to follow safety regulations without it being considered discriminatory.
- You have the right to contact an employee and request documentation that the employee is off work for a legitimate reason.
- You have the right to terminate an employee’s work relationship anytime, as long as it is not discriminatory.
Employees are also responsible for their safety — the burden is not entirely on you. If you do your part to ensure safety to the best of your ability, it is the employee’s responsibility to follow the rules you set. According to OSHA, it is each employee’s responsibility to:
- Comply with the standards, rules, regulations and orders issued by his or her employer or agency in accordance with the OSHA Act
- Use safety equipment, personal protective equipment and other protective devices and procedures provided
- Use equipment properly, as trained
- Report all accidents immediately
- Communicate with their supervisor
For example, if you told an employee they are not allowed to drink on the job, and the employee climbs a ladder drunk, is it your responsibility to pay their medical bills after they fall? As an example of what isn’t your responsibility as an employer, Let’s take a look at workers’ compensation. A worker may not receive workers’ compensation benefits if they:
- Perform work while intoxicated or using illegal drugs
- Fail to notify their employer immediately after a work-related illness or injury
- Commit fraud and make false claims
- Intentionally injure themselves
- Disobey the law, resulting in injury or death
To maintain a safe workspace, it’s crucial that employers know both their rights and their workers’ rights.
Our Emergency Alert Is Your Safety Solution
As an employer, you know it is your responsibility to ensure the safety of all your employees, whether they work alone or not, to the best of your ability. While employing lone workers presents challenges, it’s still possible to provide a safe workplace environment and respond promptly to emergency situations.
Emergency Alert from Towne Tracking Service makes it easy to ensure that your employees are safe at all times. If something goes wrong, our response service will alert you or other supervisors that assistance is urgently needed. Our system takes the stress out of your workday so you can take a deep breath and enjoy peace of mind.
How does our tracking system work? It runs via an app on employees’ phones. When they begin their shift, the lone worker initiates a session that requires the worker to check in at certain times. If they need help, all they have to do is touch a button on their phone. If they aren’t able to check in, the app will alert our operators and we will call someone to help. We will also be able to inform the responder of the workers location if needed. To remove any privacy concerns, the system maintains its connection only when the employee activates a tracking session, as they would during their shift.
The app is easy to use with simple functions, making safety and check-in intuitive experiences that will not interfere with workflow. Towne is ready to assist your workers 24 hours a day, every day of the year. Features of the app include:
- Timed sessions: Employees can start a timed session before they begin lone work. If they fail to end the session, the app will send an alert.
- Panic button: As long as the app is running, an employee can hit the panic button to immediately send a panic alert if they need help.
- Duress PIN: If an attacker forces an employee to stop a panic alert, your employee can enter a fake PIN that triggers the panic button.
- Low battery: The app sends reminders to the employee when it’s time to recharge their phone battery.
- Discreet panic: Employees can use the phone’s power switch to hit the panic button secretly.
- Man down: In case of an accident, the app can send an alert if an employee hasn’t responded in a long time.
- Audible alerts: This function lets employees know their session is about to expire.
Never worry again about an employee who’s working alone. Ensure their safety with Emergency Alert. Contact Towne Tracking today to get started or give us a call at 215-703-6460 for more information.