The Safety Hazards of Working Alone

Published On
Jun 1, 2017

The U.S. Department of Labor and the Mine Safety and Health Administration have begun investigating situations where employees were sent to work alone. This is a direct result of recent deaths that involved workers who were performing work solo and whether a co-worker’s presence could have helped prevent these deaths.

Many tasks require or involve only one worker, but, in an industrial and mining environment, other factors come into play. Tasks performed in these workplaces could benefit from a second person—a qualified observer, for instance—who could notice and warn the worker before an incident takes place. Job-hazard analysis and safety planning should consider when two workers should be present.

Electrical work must be performed only when every effort to minimize danger has been taken. The fact that we cannot see the electricity creates additional hazards that require proper precautions when working on or near energized circuits, conductors and components. For this reason, it is always good to have an additional—preferably qualified—person present when work is performed.

A second person or a person capable of responding to an emergency is often required by many standards and emergency-response programs and procedures. Having a person trained in contact release as stipulated in NFPA 70E, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace, is one example of these requirements. OSHA requires a qualified observer when utility workers are working around power lines to warn them when they get too close to energized lines.

Best practices developed by companies and the OSHA Strategic Partnership for the Electrical Transmission and Distribution show the benefit of having a second person present. Many tasks simply are designed to have two people involved or require the services of two people to complete. 

It is a good idea to have another person present that is familiar with the work to be performed and with the system or source of electrical power feeding the circuits. 

This is valuable for training and observation programs. Mentoring or teaching an apprentice is best served by the journeyman or master craftsman present when the work is performed.

One should never work alone in a confined or enclosed space. Some industrial plants require two people when working on any elevated work platform or location to keep track of workers that may fall ill. When lifting equipment manually, it is better to have two people performing the lift if it is more than 35 pounds. You don’t want to discover it should be a two-person lift only after one person gets injured trying to lift and stabilize it alone.

Many safety policies and procedures stem from incidents and accidents. Lessons learned from root-cause analysis and other investigations are deciphered and detailed to educate personnel to prevent future injuries and fatalities. 

Electrical work around any energized components mandate that another person is present. OSHA regulations and NFPA consensus standards should be followed in all these situations. Be safe!

About the Author

Wesley L. Wheeler

Executive Director of Safety, NECA

WHEELER, SMS, is NECA’s executive director of safety and is a committee member on NFPA 70, the National Electrical Code, CMP-7 and a former technical committee member on NFPA 70E. He also serves as an employer representative on the OSHA ACCSH...

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