Protecting the safety of lone or remote workers isn’t easy, but it’s your responsibility.
There are many employees in the workplace who work alone or in remote areas where injuries and illnesses can occur, resulting in delays in emergency response or medical assistance.
They include people who work outside normal business hours, such as:
- Security guards
- Special production
- Plant maintenance or repair staff
- Delivery truck drivers and many others
Lone and remote workers are found in a wide range of situations and include those who work by themselves or in an environment where help is not readily available in the event of injury, illness, or an emergency.
- They may be without close or direct supervision.
- They may also be self-employed people.
- They can be people in fixed establishments where only one person works on the premises, such as in small workshops, gas stations, kiosks, espresso stands, and homeworkers.
OSHA’s underground construction rule for tunnels, shafts, chambers, and passageways (29 CFR 1926.800) requires “[A]ny employee working alone underground in a hazardous location, who is both out of the range of natural unassisted voice communication and not under observation by other persons, shall be provided with an effective means of obtaining assistance in an emergency.”
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Although there are no other federal OSHA rules that specifically apply to working alone, the broad requirements of the safety and health regulations still apply.
For example, OSHA’s rules for medical treatment and first aid (29 CFR 1910.151 for general industry and 1926.50 for construction) require employers to ensure that someone at the worksite is trained to administer first aid and that first-aid supplies are available unless there is a hospital, clinic, or infirmary for treating injured employees in close proximity (within 3 to 4 minutes for life-threatening emergencies). This means medical treatment and first aid must be made immediately available to all employees, including lone workers.
OSHA’s General Duty Clause states, in Section 5(a)1, “… [e]ach employer shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause, death or serious physical harm to his employees …”
In some cases, you must continuously monitor the work conditions of workers that are exposed to hazards in order to ensure worker safety. This means you have to identify the hazards of the work, assess the risks of injury or illness, and put measures in place to eliminate or control the hazards and risk of injury.
Remember, too, that there are some high-risk activities where safety regulations require that at least one other person be present. For example:
- Confined space work, under the confined space rule at 29 CFR 1910.146, where an attendant must monitor the activities of the entrant; and
- Electrical work at or near exposed live conductors where at least two people are required.
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- When a worksite hazard analysis and risk assessment shows that it is not possible for the work to be done safely by a lone worker, you must correct the hazard. Remember that a worker has the right to refuse to do a job if he or she believes in good faith that exposure to the hazard will cause imminent danger.
- When a contractor sends a lone worker to work at a host employer’s workplace, the host employer should inform the contract employer of any safety and health risks and the hazard control measures that should be taken to protect the lone worker.
- Establishing effective safety monitoring practices for lone workers is no less important than managing the safety of other employees.
- You need to know the laws and standards that apply to a lone worker’s activities and then assess whether the requirements can be met by people working alone.
Make Sure They’re Safe
If you have any employees who are out in the field and working alone, you need to consider what safety measures to take to protect their well-being and security.
A well-thought-out safety program for these employees is an essential first step. Hazard control measures may include:
- Awareness information
- Protective equipment
- Communication and monitoring devices
Be sure also to take steps to check that safety control measures are used. And, of course, review your plan from time to time by conducting a risk assessment in areas where employees work alone to ensure that your control measures are still adequate.
Tomorrow, recommendations for protecting lone and remote workers.