Discover working alone safety tips for employees and managers that will help your organization become more proactive in keeping lone workers safe.
Updated 31 Jan 2023, Published 19 Oct 2022
Whether your employees are nurses or social workers making house calls, utility staff operating in remote areas, or truck drivers traveling long distances, working alone is a high-risk activity. But the good news is, high-risk does not have to be synonymous with unsafe. By taking practical precautions and mitigating risks wherever possible, organizations can help ensure that lone, isolated, and mobile workers are safe on the job. In this article, we will discover 12 essential working alone safety tips that will help your organization move from reactive to proactive lone worker safety.
Even though businesses are typically legally required to “ensure the health and safety of [their] workers“, lone worker safety is still a team effort. Therefore, these 12 essential working alone safety tips are broken down into two sections:
It’s vital that lone workers feel confident as they work, armed with the appropriate skills, tools, and knowledge to keep themselves safe. Simultaneously, management needs to know that employees are getting their work done safely and efficiently. The best way to accomplish this is with a dedicated lone worker safety policy.
A carefully crafted lone worker policy should clearly outline safe work procedures and processes; explain everyone’s roles and responsibilities; help mitigate and eliminate lone worker hazards and risks; empower lone and isolated workers to take responsibility for their own safety; and ensure that everyone is prepared to respond in the event of an emergency.
Creating a practical, detailed, easy-to-understand lone worker safety policy should be your organization’s top priority – followed closely by keeping it updated and ensuring its continuous use.
The National Institutes of Health explains that supervisors’ duties should include enforcing safe work practices, preventing unsafe or unhealthful workplace conditions or hazards, and correcting unsafe conditions.
In Australia, all organizations are required to ensure the provision of supervision and the monitoring of workers’ health and workplace conditions. Many government bodies worldwide have similar requirements.
But here is the tricky part: If employees are working alone or in isolated environments, how can you supervise them, keep track of their activities, and monitor their health and safety? The most effective way is through a lone worker safety solution.
Deploying a lone worker app, such as SHEQSY by SafetyCulture, ensures that you can manage, monitor, and report on your lone workers’ activities and safety, no matter where they are. With real-time location monitoring, automated check-ins, duress alarms, and more, SHEQSY keeps you connected to your lone workers, so you can be there for them when it counts.
One of the leading causes of workplace deaths, injuries, illnesses, and other incidents is failing to identify (and mitigate) hazards that are present or that could have been anticipated.
Regularly conducting risk assessments – the process of identifying hazards, assessing their associated risks, and then mitigating the hazards in order of their risk levels (high to low) – is an essential step in safeguarding lone workers.
According to the UK’s Health and Safety Executive, “reviewing risk assessments periodically and updating them after any significant changes, such as new staff, processes or equipment” can help employers avoid and control risks.
Open communication channels enable managers to stay aware of lone and isolated workers’ activities and their workplace environments, making it much easier to protect them.
It is important that lone workers can talk freely about their safety concerns, report risks and hazards, share incident details, and discuss their health and safety needs (such as if they have any pre-existing medical conditions), without fear of discomfort or reprisal. The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) states that employers should “Talk to workers about their work. Get their input about the work they do and possible solutions.”
Deploying a digital lone worker solution that enables employees to stay in contact – via wellbeing check-ins, 1:1 messaging, safety audits, and hazard/incident reporting – can help keep them safe.
Canada’s Digital Government and Service NL states that employers should “establish a check-in procedure [and] make sure regular contact is kept with all workers.”
The easiest way to regularly check-in with employees is via an automated system.
Some digital lone worker solutions, such as SHEQSY, feature periodic check-in systems that require employees to confirm their wellbeing at pre-specified intervals. When workers fail to check in, overtime alerts, and eventually, duress alarms, can be triggered automatically, according to your organization’s safety policy, so that emergency responses can be coordinated.
If a lone worker experiences an emergency, will you know about it when it happens? Or will you find out when it’s too late? If you are aware of the emergency, how will your team respond?
Creating a detailed emergency response plan will ensure that everyone knows what to do, in a calm and organized fashion, if something goes wrong.
The plan should outline how to respond to an emergency, from start to finish. Answering these questions can help you get started:
Utilities, construction, and agriculture are a few of the industries that commonly employ lone workers to carry out high-risk activities, such as operating hazardous machinery and working from height. Without the proper training, skills, and experience, these workers would be much more accident-prone.
No matter the industry, it is always the employer’s duty to ensure that employees have the appropriate qualifications to carry out the work – and to continue to train and retrain them as necessary.
It is a good idea to create a training program that makes training, refreshing, and up-leveling easy, accessible, and enjoyable.
From PPE (like footwear, gloves, hard hats, safety glasses, earplugs, respirators, coveralls, and vests) to lone worker devices and apps (like SHEQSY), it is the employer’s duty to ensure that lone workers have the tools and equipment they need to stay safe – and to verify that they are actively using them, as required.
Prohibiting certain high-risk tasks or activities can help keep team members safe.
After completing a risk assessment, you may discover that certain tasks are unsafe to carry out under specific circumstances, or at all. For example, you may find that a buddy system, more experience or training, different tools, or specific PPE are required to safely complete a task.
If a task or activity is unsafe, do not allow your employees to do it until it is safe to do so.
Though lone workers’ safety largely depends on the safety systems, tools, and resources provided by their employers, there are still various ways that lone, isolated, and remote workers can safeguard themselves and others.
Here are the top working-alone safety tips for lone workers.
Before and during work, employees who work alone, in regularly changing environments, or in high-risk environments should conduct dynamic risk assessments.
A dynamic risk assessment is the continuous safety practice of quickly identifying and analyzing risks and hazards on the spot, and making quick, yet informed decisions to mitigate hazards and proceed with work safely.
Employing common sense – and considering the potential health and safety ramifications of taking (or not taking) action – is another key way that lone workers can protect themselves and others.
Feeling fatigued? Take a break. Required to wear personal protective equipment (PPE)? Put it on. Operating hazardous equipment? Conduct a safety audit first. See a tripping hazard? Send a hazard report. Being accosted by someone? Press your panic button. Driving? Wear your seat belt. Not sure how to complete a task? Ask questions.
“Common-sense approaches can be the difference between life and death,” according to the United States Department of Labor.
Employers create robust lone worker safety policies to keep lone workers safe, but it’s the lone worker’s job to read the policy, understand it, remember it, and most importantly, execute it.
Many workplace accidents occur because employees fail to follow the safety rules their employers designed for them, based on government requirements and detailed risk assessments.
Put simply, taking safety seriously can stop many preventable accidents from happening. Work like your actions make all the difference, because they do.
Watch this video to learn how safety can be managed with a digital app:
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, as the safety measures you take will vary depending on your work environment, tasks, and other factors. However, some general safety tips for lone workers include conducting regular risk assessments, using common sense, and taking safety seriously. Additionally, many employers provide specific tools and resources to help their lone workers stay safe, such as PPE, lone worker devices and apps, and hazard reporting procedures.
Employees who work alone are exposed to greater risk of experiencing serious incidents. The United Kingdom’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) states that these risks particularly affect lone and isolated workers:
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), other high-risk incidents that employees could face include transportation accidents, trips, slips, and falls. In fact, 2.7 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses were reported by private industry employers in 2020, according to BLS.
Of course, this does not constitute a complete list of lone worker risks; every sector and workplace situation is different. Conducting regular lone worker risk assessments can help your organization identify and analyze common hazards and risks facing your lone workers.
The greatest risk of working alone is the fact that no one else is present to help if an emergency occurs. For this reason, employers should create an emergency response plan and equip lone workers with a communication and duress alarm system, such as a lone worker smartphone app. Lone workers should also conduct dynamic risk assessments to stay aware of their surroundings and any potential hazards.
Every country has different rules and regulations for safeguarding lone workers. Generally speaking, employers have a duty of care to take every reasonable step to ensure the safety of all employees, including lone workers.
Take Worksafe New Zealand‘s health and safety regulations as an example. In New Zealand, “all businesses must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of its workers.” Specifically, employers must:
The United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Part 1915 offers the following lone worker supervision guidelines to keep lone workers safe:
Whenever an employee is working alone, such as in a confined space or isolated location, the employer shall account for each employee:
The employer shall account for each employee by sight or verbal communication.
Working alone at night poses higher risks to lone workers’ health and safety than the same work does during daylight hours. In addition to the tips above, here are a few night safety tips to consider:
If your employees work alone in buildings or in their own homes, all of the above safety tips apply. In addition, lone workers should ensure that the building or home office is secured from outsiders and that a first-aid kit is available.
If lone worker safety is your priority, then it's time to deploy a lone worker safety solution.
SHEQSY by SafetyCulture 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.
Ready to protect your employees? Get in touch now to schedule a demo and start your 30-day free trial.
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.
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