EHS Management

Out of Sight and Out of Danger: Control the Risks of Working Alone

When Donald Megge arrived for work at 5:30 am at the Fiat Chrysler plant in Detroit on May 5, 2015, he went almost immediately to work on the wastewater filter press in the plant’s wastewater treatment area. At 6:30 am, coworkers found 53-year-old Megge unresponsive; he had been crushed to death in the filter press. Although Megge was not the only worker in the plant, he was alone in the wastewater treatment area, so no one was sure how long he had been there or what had gone wrong.

It can be challenging to address the hazards of working alone, but there are ways to reduce workers’ risk.

Protecting Solo Workers

An employee who works alone needs to take a greater responsibility for his or her own safety than a worker who is regularly under a supervisor’s eye—but employers still play a key role. Protect workers by following these steps:

  • Eliminate solo work whenever possible. Having more than one worker present solves a lot of problems, so whenever it’s practical, have workers buddy up.
  • Identify the hazards they’re exposed to. Besides being alone, do they work with hazardous equipment (like powered hand tools); in hazardous situations (for example, in high or confined spaces); with hazardous materials; or with potentially dangerous people?
  • Ask workers for their input. Employees may have ideas about enhancing their safety that wouldn’t apply in other situations.

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  • Schedule for safety. Higher-risk tasks should be done during daylight or normal business hours whenever possible.
  • Train the worker in emergency response. How will the worker get help in the event of an emergency? Does the worker carry any sort of emergency notification system, first aid supplies, or other emergency equipment? Does the worker know how to use them?
  • Create a check-in procedure. Keep in touch with your workers while they’re off on their own. More on this below.

Check in for Safety

You may not be able to directly supervise a worker, but you can still keep in regular contact. Here’s how to set up a check-in procedure that will help keep workers safe.

Know the worker’s itinerary. For workers who are leaving the main work location, a supervisor on duty should know:

  • Where the worker is going. If the worker will be in more than one location, make sure all locations are listed.
  • How the worker is traveling. Is the worker taking a company vehicle? His or her personal vehicle? Commercial transportation (train or airplane)?
  • When the worker expects to be at each destination.
  • When the worker expects to return to the central work location or to go home.
  • How to reach the worker. This may be a cell phone number, but in areas where cell service is unreliable, a different method may be agreed upon.
  • How often the worker is expected to make contact. This could be at specified times or after the completion of each task, but it should be regular throughout the worker’s shift and should not exceed maximum agreed-upon intervals.
  • Any anticipated circumstances that could alter the worker’s plans. For example, if the worker can only do some tasks in clear weather, what will he or she do when the weather prohibits those tasks?

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Make regular contact with the worker. The worker should know who his or her main contact will be, and should be able to reach that person at all times during the work shift. The worker’s main contact person should have a copy of the itinerary as described above and should keep a written log of contact with the worker.

Have an emergency code. For workers who may find themselves in dangerous situations, set up a code word that can be used to request emergency assistance. A worker who is being threatened by a violent person may not be able to speak plainly, but might be able to use an unrelated code word to let a supervisor know that there is a serious problem.

Have an emergency plan. The worker’s contact person needs to know exactly what to do if the worker does not check in as expected in order to get help to the worker as quickly as possible.

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