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Whether in an office, industrial setting, at a small business or with the public, many jobs require workers to be alone for periods of time. While it isn’t always dangerous to work alone, not having a co-worker nearby to spot hazards, witness incidents or call for help can increase the risk to the worker’s safety – especially in the presence of other contributing factors in the work environment.
Where lone work happens
A person is "alone" at work when they are on their own, or when they cannot be seen or heard by another person. Working alone or in isolation happens in environments where assistance isn’t readily available to the worker in case of emergency, or if the worker becomes injured or ill. This could include late-night retail stores such as gas stations or truck stops, taxi and rideshare drivers, warehouse workers in remote areas or freezers, personal support workers, and night cleaners or custodians.
Some workers may only be alone for shorter periods of time. However, others, like those in retail or gig workers, who work under flexible arrangements with short-term contracts and digital platforms, or engage in online freelance work and app-based roles like rideshare driving, might spend their entire shift working alone.
Assess the situation
Identify any hazards associated with the work and assess the risks to the worker. Factor in where the work is happening, the nature of the work, and the amount of time the worker will be alone. Be aware of any legal restrictions related to working alone for certain activities. For example, certain provinces may have regulations that prohibit working alone in confined spaces or during lockout/tag out procedures. Is there money involved? Is there a possibility of violent interactions with the public? Consider the communication options available to the worker. Are they provided with a cell phone or radio for working in remote locations? For gig workers and delivery drivers, does an app track their whereabouts and allow them to call for help?
Document any situations or incidents that could reasonably arise while the worker is doing their job, being sure to consider any previous incidents that have occurred. Involve workers in the risk assessment process as they know their jobs best. It’s also important to know if a worker has any pre-existing medical conditions that could increase their risk. In addition, confirm if they have training relevant to the work and its risks, such as first aid, outdoor survival, vehicle repair, or another related area.
Establish safe work procedures and train thoroughly
Written safe work procedures are a type of control that can help create a safe work environment, especially for those working alone. Safe work procedures outline the measures to control potential hazards and provide employees with the steps to follow while working alone. This could include modifying work practices, such as having workers exit from well-lit main entrances after dark, or arranging staff schedules to prevent workers from being their own.
For workers whose job is solitary by nature, such as personal support workers, rideshare and taxi drivers, or meter readers, check-ins may be a part of their safe work procedures. Check-in procedures have workers communicating with a supervisor or colleague at regular, predetermined intervals to ensure their safety.
Additionally, engineering controls such as physical barriers to separate access, or installing an intercom system to communicate with customers during late hours, modify the physical work environment to provide more safety and security while working alone.
Thorough training is also crucial for lone workers. Include training on how to identify hazards, follow safe work procedures, perform tasks safely, and report unsafe work situations. Workers should also be trained on any communication requirements and how to call for help, as well as the safe operation of any machinery or cash handling procedures.
Assess and refine processes
Be sure to get regular input from workers, especially those working alone, about the work they do and solutions for addressing hazards. Collect as much information as possible to learn from any incidents in your own workplace and those like yours.
Workers need to know their safety is a top priority. Instruct them to report every situation, incident, or near miss where being alone increased the severity of the risk. Take corrective action where missteps could have resulted in harm to the worker. By regularly collecting and analyzing information, you can make any necessary changes to your company policies, and continuously prioritize your workers’ health and safety.
Tips and Tools
Working in trenches and excavations can be hazardous to both the workers inside them and those on the surface. Cave-ins, flooding, and contact with buried service lines supplying utilities like natural gas and electricity are among the serious risks workers can face. While every situation and work environment is different, all hazards and risks must be identified along with appropriate safety measures put in place before excavation work can begin.
Identify hazards and implement safety measures
Before you dig a trench, check the legislative requirements in your jurisdiction regarding the use of protective systems, which may include using physical supports or specialized techniques to cut back the trench walls.
Consider implementing these additional steps to ensure the site is free from potential hazards.
Assessing your unique work circumstances and implementing a comprehensive plan to eliminate hazards and control risks are key to keeping workers safe while near or inside a trench.
When workers are part of a psychologically safe team, they can contribute their best work, deal with challenges effectively, and feel safe to voice concerns. To help support their teams, workplace leaders can now access a new online resource, the Psychologically Safe Team Assessment. This free tool identifies strategies for leaders to help improve team cohesion, effectiveness, and resilience. It can be used by any team leader for their direct reports, including workers, students, contractors, and volunteers.
How it works
Team leaders send their team members a short online assessment which asks about their experiences on leadership, team interactions, and inclusion. The tool generates a report which highlights team strengths and areas for improvement, and includes many free and practical resources to help team leaders take action.
The Psychologically Safe Team Assessment was developed by Workplace Strategies for Mental Health, compliments of Canada Life., with oversight by Dr. Brooke Linden and researchers from Queen's University, along with technical development and support from CCOHS.
Learn more about the Psychologically Safe Team Assessment.
CCOHS releases new podcasts each month to help you stay current and informed on workplace health, safety, and well-being in Canada.
New Podcast: The Gender Gap in Personal Protective Equipment
There are consequences to a one-size-fits-all approach to personal protective equipment. In this episode, occupational and public health consultant Anya Keefe discusses the lack of representation and the need to consider gender and sex in the production and availability of personal protective equipment.
Podcast runs: 13:23 minutes. Listen to the podcast now.
Anya Keefe will be speaking at CCOHS’ Forum on The Changing World of Work, taking place September 26-27 in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
New Podcast: Keeping Up with WHMIS
The Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) has been updated. In this episode we discuss the latest changes to WHMIS and how they benefit workers and suppliers.
Podcast runs: 6:04 minutes. Listen to the podcast now.
New handbooks are now available to help you learn more about the workplace impacts of climate change and the basics of health and safety.
Climate Change: Workplace Impacts
In this free handbook, you’ll learn about climate change and its potential impacts on workplaces, employers, workers, and the work they do. It offers information and strategies to help workplaces take action to identify, assess, control, and monitor climate-related hazards. If you’re involved in the development and implementation of workplace policies and programs or are interested in learning about climate change from a workplace perspective, this handbook is a helpful resource.
Health and Safety Foundations
Health and safety is critical to any organization’s success. This handbook reviews the core aspects of occupational health and safety that can be applied to help foster a safe and healthy work environment. It provides a basic summary of key topics, including how to identify, assess and control hazards in the workplace. This handbook is suitable for anyone in the workplace, and for those interested in occupational health and safety.
The deadline is quickly approaching for the Chad Bradley Scholarship award. If you are a woman enrolled in a post-secondary occupational health and safety program at a Canadian college or university, you may be eligible to win a $3,000 scholarship from CCOHS.
The deadline to apply is August 31, 2023, at 11:59 p.m. EDT. Learn more about the scholarship, essay criteria, and how to apply: www.ccohs.ca/scholarships/cbradley/.
Registrations are rolling in! Secure your spot today and join us in beautiful Halifax, Nova Scotia, on September 26-27, 2023.
At the Changing World of Work Forum, engage with leaders, influencers and change makers from across Canada. This event features speaker sessions that will stimulate and inspire you, an Innovation Showcase to learn about new tools and resources, and opportunities to discuss current issues and exchange ideas. Learn more about our packed program of 10+ sessions.
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The Health and Safety Report, a free monthly newsletter produced by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), provides information, advice, and resources that help support a safe and healthy work environment and the total well being of workers.
© 2023, Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety