One of the unwritten rules of the workplace is that employees look out for one another. So what happens when there is no one to look out for a worker? In other words, when a worker’s job involves going solo?
A solitary worker is anyone who works alone and away from other employees. Solitary workers can work in a variety of locations including factories, warehouses, maintenance, farms, retail or construction. It also can include office workers. In many cases, solitary workers work nights or weekends.
Laws require that all workers are protected, whether they work alone or not. In order for solitary workers to be protected, it is important that workplaces implement policies to keep these employees safe on the job. These include things like making sure there are effective modes of communication and, in some cases, technology to track the location and movements of workers.
What follows are some procedures that can help keep solitary workers safe:
- Conduct risk assessments to make sure that solitary workers can do their work safely
- Make sure solitary workers are trained, as are all employees, on emergency response
- Have an action plan in place for emergencies
- Set guidelines for what may and may not be done by solitary workers
- Require supervisors to visit solitary workers periodically to assess his or her working conditions
- Call or radio solitary workers on a regular basis
- Employ the use of automatic warning devices to alert supervisors or other emergency personnel if solitary workers have not made contact as required or if they are unable to be reached
- Once a task or shift has been completed, ensure that the solitary worker is safe and accounted for
Employers should also assess the following:
- Is there a safe way in and out for the solitary worker?
- Can equipment needed for the job of the solitary worker be safely and adequately operated by one person?
- Is the lifting required of the job too much for one person?
- Is the solitary worker medically fit to work alone?
- Is the worker exposed to danger or violence by working alone?
While the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has no specific regulations for solitary or lone workers, it is nevertheless the duty of employers to keep their employees safe—no matter where those workers perform their job. OSHA does have a general duty clause, however, that states employers must identify the hazards of the workplace, assess the risks of injury or illnesses and put measures in place to eliminate or control the hazards and risk of injury. This includes workers who are surrounded by other employees and those who are on their own.