Remote and lone workers are at increased risk of sustaining more serious injuries because of job location and the absence of co-workers to rely on. It is estimated that one in five lone workers that have experienced a workplace accident have had difficulty receiving emergency assistance. Fortunately, there are several measures the employer and employee can take to improve lone worker safety. What is ‘lone’?
Workers are considered alone when they are working on their own or when they cannot be seen or heard by another person. The situation of a lone worker in the construction industry can range from an electrician working in another room away from a colleague to a lineworker or transmission tower employee solitarily working in a remote area.
Often, remote and lone workers work nontraditional hours in environments where emergency personnel are not immediately accessible, which makes their situation more dangerous if an incident occurs. Additionally, workers in remote areas risk encountering hazardous wildlife including snakes, spiders, scorpions, insects, bears, alligators, wild boars and even toxic plant life.
Although there is no OSHA standard addressing remote and lone worker safety in construction, the agency recommends employers implement emergency procedures and provide workers with wireless electronic notification devices or cellphones to communicate while in the field. Additionally, employers can be cited for violations pertaining to the general duty clause or other regulations in certain scenarios for incidents involving these workers.
According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety: “For most lone workers, the telephone will be the main source of contact. If using cellphones, always be sure that it is close by and charged. If cellphone service is unreliable in your area, be sure to have alternative methods of communication available (such as use of cameras, automated warning/duress devices, global positioning systems, two-way radio, site visits or satellite technology).”
Implementing a plan
It is important for employers to establish a check-in procedure for remote and lone workers. Depending on the nature of the work, a verbal check-in may be sufficient. In other cases, a visual account might be necessary. When implementing a check-in procedure, designate a main contact person and a backup.
Employers should prepare a daily work plan and determine how frequently the worker needs to check in. Creating a code word for the worker to alert the employer of an emergency and having the contact person call or visit the worker occasionally can be helpful too. There should also be an emergency plan in place in the event remote or lone workers do not check in at the arranged time. Additionally, the main contact person should know when and how to set the emergency plan into motion.
Workers need to communicate with their employer when headed out on a job. They should inform them of their location, destination, estimated times of arrival and departure, mode of travel and any secondary plans if they encounter traffic or bad weather.
In addition to employers setting up a daily work plan, it is critical that employees are prepared for the tasks they will be responsible for completing. A good communication plan also minimizes the risk of an incident.
An eye to worker safety
Wearable technologies are also useful for monitoring the well-being of remote and lone workers. Smart watches, cuffs, goggles, boots and headwear can transmit information such as vital signs, heart rate and step counts to help identify and prevent overexertion. They can detect falls and alert emergency personnel in the event of an incident. Some equipment can also detect abnormal heart rhythms or blood oxygen saturation. This can be helpful in identifying respiratory or cardiac issues.
Finally, it is important for lone workers to know when to stop work if the environment changes. Lone work should not be conducted at height. Workers should not leave the ground for any reason in a solo setting. Other circumstances that make lone work unsafe are severe weather conditions, presence of hazardous chemicals or equipment, when respiratory protection or air monitoring is required, or in violent crime areas.
If lone worker scenarios are unavoidable, higher-risk tasks should be scheduled with supervision.