Using the Buddy System at Work for Safety: Pros & Cons

Discover why and how to implement a buddy system at work – and learn about an alternative safety system that is rapidly gaining popularity across organizations worldwide.

Buddy System at Work

Implementing a buddy system at work can provide many benefits to employers and employees alike. From providing safety in numbers and access to immediate back-up support, to a shared responsibility for safety are a few of the benefits, the buddy system has been used for decades for a reason. But is the buddy system the most efficient and effective way to keep employees safe at work?

What is a Workplace Buddy System?

Interestingly, the concept of the “buddy system” came from the U.S. Army in World War II. In the war, “battle buddies” helped ensure that soldiers had someone else to help support them emotionally, watch their back, and check their decisions. Some benefits included increased morale, less stress, reduced suicides and assaults, increased confidence, and better teamwork and problem-solving.

Similarly, in a workplace buddy system, colleagues are paired up to work together and help keep each other safe. Typically, buddies accompany one another when carrying out high-risk tasks or while completing similar work; for example, couriers co-drivers a dangerous route or gas station attendants working a night shift.

Sometimes, buddies can be paired up digitally, meaning that they call/text each other to check-in and confirm one another’s wellbeing.

How Does a Buddy System Work?

The buddy system operates on the assumption that there is safety in numbers. When buddies work together, they are generally expected to:

  • Share the responsibility for each other’s well being (in other words, “have each other’s back”)
  • Communicate and work together (i.e. complete tasks together, carry out dynamic complete risk assessments, discuss the safest ways to move forward)
  • Check-in on one another’s mental and physical wellbeing
  • Provide emergency assistance when needed

Which Jobs Use a Buddy System?

From the police force and the military, to pilots, shop-floor attendants, and night drivers, there are endless examples of jobs that use – and even require – a buddy system. From healthcare to transportation to construction, this safety principle is common because it is proven to increase and encourage safety.

However, the buddy system should never be the only safeguard in place to protect employees, especially those working in high-risks roles or environments.

Benefits of a Buddy System at Work

Working alone poses a higher risk to employees’ health and safety. Lone workers are particularly susceptible to violence, abuse, aggression, slipping, tripping, falling, traffic accidents, and sudden health emergencies (i.e. stroke or heart attack). Working alone can also cause mental and physical stress.

The buddy system helps to mitigate these risks. Here are a few of the ways it does so:

1. Supervision & Immediate Emergency Support

Working with – or nearby – can mean that employees have supervision and immediate access to emergency assistance if something goes wrong. Working together can help ensure that employees are accounted for, and finish the workday safely.

2. Shared Responsibility & Communication

Sharing space, tasks, and the responsibility for one another’s health and safety can give buddies peace of mind and confidence – and indeed, make them safer. When issues arise, sharing facts and opinions, communicating logically, and making decisions together can also help employees stay safe.

3. Safety in Numbers

Employees are less likely to experience some common, high-risk hazards, such as violence or abuse while working with members of the public, when they work with someone else. The buddy system can help deter perpetrators from identifying employees as “targets”.

Disadvantages of Buddy System at Work Safety

While of course, working with a buddy is inherently safer than working alone, workplace health and safety policymakers should not consider the buddy system to be a catch-all safety system. 

1. False Sense of Security

Relying too heavily on a buddy system can lead to a heightened sense of safety that may not match reality – especially for those working in high-risk work environments or job roles. With buddies around, employees may feel less of a need to take safety precautions, follow safety protocols, and stay aware of their surroundings. In some cases, the buddy system can be counterproductive and actually lead to incidents.

2. Two Buddies, Same Emergency

Just because two co-workers are present, does not mean that they could not experience an emergency situation together. For example, what if they get into a car accident, or have their car break down in a rural area with no cell coverage and dangerously hot temperatures? What about if they are working together in an enclosed space and both lose consciousness? If two buddies don’t have other safety systems in place (such as a lone worker safety solution, deployed via smartphone app and/or handheld satellite device), how will their managers know if something has gone wrong? How will they request and receive emergency assistance when they need it?

Deploying a solution with safeguards such as periodic check-ins, panic/duress alarms, overtime alerts, and man-down/fall-detection can let managers know that there is an emergency, even when employees are unable to physically “sound the alarm” themselves.

SHEQSY is the leading lone worker safety solution that makes it easy to manage, monitor, and report on lone worker activities in real-time.

3. High Costs

For organizations who deploy the buddy system for safety in high-risk jobs that could be carried out alone, the buddy system is also needlessly expensive. Why pay two employees, when you could only pay one? The key here is to ensure that you take every reasonably practicable step to safeguard lone workers (employees working without a buddy); deploying a lone worker solution, in place of a buddy system, is a more cost-effective, efficient, seamless way to protect employees – with a myriad of other benefits.

4. More Stress

Everyone handles stress differently. Being responsible for a colleague’s safety – or feeling guilty if a colleague is involved in an incident – may cause undue mental or physical stress and burnout in employees. Ultimately, the health and safety of employees’ is the responsibility of the organization and its safety officers. Organizations that use the buddy system should train employees on topics like stress management and emergency preparedness and communication. 

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Set up a Safety-First Environment with a Buddy System at Work

In high-risk jobs, such as construction, manufacturing, or emergency services, it’s important to implement a proper buddy system at work. By pairing employees with a dedicated buddy, you can establish an additional layer of protection, enhancing overall safety protocols, mitigating risks, and preventing accidents.

This system encourages constant vigilance, communication, and mutual support among colleagues, reducing the likelihood of human error. Aside from pairing team members with one another, it’s also crucial to give them proper training and sufficient time to learn how to work together.

With online solutions like Training, setting up a buddy system at work is now easier than ever before. It offers interactive templates that can help you customize your buddy system guidelines into visually appealing and engaging training content.

Training also provides an offline access feature that lets your team brush up on their skills anytime, anywhere, and even when they’re offline.

Buddy System Alternatives

The best alternatives to a buddy system are digital safety solutions that incorporate technologies such as lone worker smartphone apps, panic buttons, and lone worker devices. These systems can make monitoring employees’ safety in real-time easy and efficient, while cutting extra buddy system costs.

Are Lone Worker Apps Better than Buddy Systems?

For many job roles, the advancement of intuitive, cost-effective lone worker solutions has made the traditional buddy system obsolete. 

Lone worker smartphone apps can ensure that employees are always connected to their managers, while providing safeguards such as:

  • Real-time location sharing
  • Panic/duress alarms
  • Automated check-ins, activity countdown timers, overtime alerts
  • Streamlined emergency escalation processes (i.e. automated chain of automated calls, emails, and texts messages to emergency contacts if a duress alarm is raised)
  • Safety compliance systems (i.e. hazard reporting and safety forms/checklists)
  • Ease of communication (1:1 messaging)
  • Simplified scheduling and navigation (via calendar and map integrations)
  • Integrated satellite and Bluetooth panic devices (for low/no cell service areas and high-risk situations)

Even if organizations continue to use the buddy system (i.e. if the job is too high-risk to complete alone), deploying an employee management and monitoring solution that provides extra safeguards is wise. 

SHEQSY is the leading lone worker solution that protects employees in real-time and makes it easy to manage, monitor and report on lone worker activities from one user-friendly dashboard. Click here to learn more.

See SHEQSY in action in the 90-second video below.

Maddy Cornelius
Article by
Maddy Cornelius
Maddy is a content contributor for SafetyCulture. She has worked as a digital marketer and copywriter in the risk management industry for more than a decade. When she’s not writing for SafetyCulture, Maddy runs a popular travel and food blog and enjoys snowboarding, practicing yoga, hiking, and spending time exploring outdoors.