Britain’s HSE defines lone workers as ‘someone who works by themselves without close or direct supervision’.
Whether these workers face the same set of potential hazards as a regular worker or a completely different one, the lone workers nearly always run an increased risk. The obvious reason being: there may not be someone to assist or support them should things go wrong.
Still, globally most legislations dictate companies to adopt the same safety responsibilities for lone workers as for their shop-floor workforce.
For an employer or manager of lone workers these responsibilities can be summed up as providing training, supervision, monitoring and support.
Training is essential for nearly every worker. For lone workers it’s critical, since there is little to no supervision to provide control and assistance in sometimes uncertain and seldom completely foreseeable situations.
This training should evidently focus on them acquiring the necessary competence to do the job and make them proficient in any technical solutions provided.
But it should also ensure that they are able to identify and ideally handle risks, while just as important: recognize when to seek advice or assistance. They should also get a clear understanding of what can and cannot be done when working alone. In some cases training might include conflict resolution or environment specific skills.
Even though an intrinsic feature of lone workers is the absence of direct supervision, this by no means equals no supervision. The level of supervision should be proportionate to the risk level and the ability of the lone worker to identify and handle health and safety issues.
Often there is an agreement in the manner and frequency that lone workers keep in touch with their colleagues and supervisor. Regular meetings should allow for opportunities to touch base, share concerns and share experiences.
Supervision should be ramped up when lone workers are new to the job or dealing with a new job, undergoing training or dealing with specific risks. Also when supervisors thinks it’s warranted for medical or psychological reasons and actually any or all other safety concerns.
Not so long ago the actual monitoring of lone workers was limited to supervisors periodically observing, visiting or calling in on lone workers. Today, technological advances have drastically improved your monitoring options. And with it the safety of the lone worker. Top-tier lone worker safety technology is able to:
- automatically detect if a (lone) worker trips or falls, receives a shock or no longer moves.
- allow a worker in distress to trigger a SOS message.
- allow the worker as well as the supervisor to check in and, when needed, cancel a false alarm.
- track the worker in real-time in distress during the entire time of the alarm.
- work in confined spaces, indoor and outdoor, without hindering the worker.
Ideally such a monitoring system is:
- embedded in the overall safety structure of the organization and internal emergency response procedures.
- understood by all stakeholders.
- just as its associated emergency procedures, tested on a regular basis.
Support demands an exhaustive assessment of risks and identification of foreseeable events. The results feed into lone worker training and monitoring requirements. It’s also the basis on which emergency procedures are established, put in place and assimilated by those who might someday need them.
Managers or supervisors able to monitor lone workers have the tools and the responsibility to react in a timely and appropriate manner, should that worker encounter a health or safety issue. And wherever a (new) risk is identified, this support structure must engage to eliminate and/or mitigate it.
The way you work will change. Procedures change, there’s the unrelenting evolution of technology and automation. Even workers are changing, with a lot of them working to a later age. Whether these changes are abrupt or gradually, you will need to keep on adapting your ways and tools to keep them safe.