At a high level, key components of a lone worker policy include:
- A statement that defines the policy’s purpose
- Risks of lone working at your company, including risks unique to each type of worker
- Roles and responsibilities of each employee and how they will contribute to the adherence of the lone worker safety policy
- Reporting procedures, stating how to proactively report issues and how to report actual incidents
- Contact information for employees to get answers to questions and share concerns
Here is a link to a lone worker toolkit that describes elements of working alone policy and procedure creation in more detail. This toolkit also contains information about industry-specific policies.
This manual isn’t one that can be created in a vacuum. When determining what works best for each of these sections, you’ll need to take into account the laws influencing what must be in a lone worker safety policy. It’s important to collect feedback from employees and supervisors to create a policy with their buy-in so they will be more likely to abide by the specifics and help to keep the company safe. Also include information about psychological risks as well as physical risks.
Lone Worker Laws
You may decide to include relevant portions of laws in your written policies and links to them in manuals posted online. That way, they are readily available to everyone in your company. And, if revisions are suggested, it’s easy to refer to the laws to make sure your policies and procedures will remain lawful. Remember that you can always do more to protect lone workers than what’s dictated by law, but your company can’t do less.
Having said that, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) is relatively non-specific in its language for United States workers:
Except as provided in § 1915.51(c)(3) of this part, whenever an employee is working alone, such as in a confined space or isolated location, the employer shall account for each employee:
Throughout each work shift at regular intervals appropriate to the job assignment to ensure the employee's safety and health; and
At the end of the job assignment or at the end of the work shift, whichever occurs first.
The employer shall account for each employee by sight or verbal communication.
A fact sheet provided by OSHA on shipyard safety does provide an example in their Intervals of Accountability section, sharing the following:
“Employers, or their representative, must check on workers at regular intervals or at a frequency that is tailored to the specific job being performed to ensure the safety and health of workers. Employees working on a brief task may only need to be checked on once during a work shift or job assignment. However, an employee working for several hours, in a remote part of a shipyard, may need to be checked on numerous times to ensure their safety. This will increase survivability, or decrease injury severity should a worker become injured while working alone.”
It’s also important for United States companies to make sure that they comply with applicable state laws.
For example, in California, employers must create and document an effective Heat Illness Prevention Plan (T8 CCR 3395) that in part provides procedures for making sure all employees have access to sufficient water, and to shade, along with what to do in high heat situations, including emergency response procedures and methods and procedures for acclimatization to heat. This must be written in English and in the language that the majority of employees understand. It must also be readily available to employees.
If your company has operations in California, how will you provide water, shade and so forth to lone workers who may be working in remote locations? Here are heat-related tips for companies.
The state of Washington, meanwhile, has a policy specific to employees who are at “an increased risk of violent incidents,” including “Working alone (working in isolation) or in very small numbers.” This policy (WAC 296-800-11010) requires employers to “Provide and use safety devices, safeguards, and use work practices, methods, processes, and means that are reasonably adequate to make your workplace safe.”
In the United Kingdom, a lone worker safety policy must dovetail with the following laws:
- The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974
- The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999
- The Health & Safety Offences Act 2008
Because laws change, it’s important to keep up with those affecting lone workers and include updates in your lone worker safety policy as they occur. Who in your company will be responsible for monitoring those changes? How will employees be notified and their manuals updated?
Broad Spectrum of Risks Included — Specifically Defined
As part of your company’s risk assessment that will serve as the foundation of your lone worker policy, you’ll want to define risks that employees face. To help make a more comprehensive list, ask workers who work alone — even if only occasionally — about situations encountered that have felt risky. Although a risk assessment conducted without this step may uncover most of the risks, what about the ones that seldom happen, ones that supervisors may not have witnessed?
To get at those types of risks, ask employees to describe the most unexpected risky situation they’d ever encountered or heard about. Is this something you’ve considered in your risk assessment? An accident only has to happen once for it to have potentially catastrophic effects, so don’t overlook these types of risks.
Be specific in the risks you list in your policies. Also state that, because it’s not feasible to list every potential risk, it’s important for lone workers to wear the protective equipment mandated and follow the safety rules in all situations.
It’s essential to encourage employees to seek clarification on policies that may be confusing, but you can also go one step further. Before you publish your new or updated policy, you can break employees into small groups and have supervisors ask employees how they understand a particular part of a policy. This can help to uncover unclear language that, when clarified, can help to keep lone workers safe.
Realistic Supervisory Responsibilities
As your company is developing its lone worker policy and procedure manual, get feedback from the managers who will be supervising the lone workers. Ask them if the supervisory responsibilities you’d be assigning them are realistic — because getting the policies and procedures refined and on paper won’t help if supervisors can’t provide the level of oversight required of them.
It often makes sense for supervisors to combine safety and health checks when reviewing an employee’s progress and quality of work. Be sure to consider how much time that would likely take so that a supervisor isn’t tasked with more than he or she can safely and fully achieve. Then, include a realistic description of the roles and responsibilities of your company’s managers in your manual.
Include Psychological Challenges
As you’re crafting your lone working policy, it’s natural to focus on the physical challenges faced by these workers, whether those are weather related, height focused, or something else related to your industry. But don’t overlook the psychology of lone working. Using social workers as an example, what kind of verbal abuse might a lone worker be regularly subjected to during home visits as he or she tries to help people with significant challenges? What about threats of violence? Even if the threat never develops into something tangible, they can have significant negative impacts on the people receiving them and cause them to always be looking over their shoulders. Plus, sometimes, confrontations do turn physical. What if employee stalking behaviors are involved?
How will your policy address these challenges?
Sharing the Lone Work Policy: Include a Schedule
As part of your working alone policy and procedure manual, include when, where, and how it will be shared with employees; including the lone workers, people who typically don’t work alone as well as supervisors. This can be accomplished at quarterly meetings (or at least at annual meetings), when onboarding new employees and more. If, in your manual, you list when the policies must be reviewed, updated, and shared, make that a natural part of your business’s operations and keeps managers accountable for prioritizing this important task.
Make sure that everyone has a copy of the most recently updated policies and procedures and post them in key places.
Blackline Safety Can Help
Our portfolio of wirelessly connected gas detection and lone worker monitoring products can help you elevate your safety monitoring program. Our G7 connected safety devices feature:
- Cellular and satellite communications
- GPS and proprietary indoor location technology
- Automatic incident detection
- Manually triggered alerting
These lone worker monitoring devices can help your company in multiple ways, including to:
- Help improve outcomes after a safety incident
- Reduce work-related injuries and fatalities
- Ease lone workers’ workplace stress that can lead to accidents
- Give you real-time safety status of your employees who work alone
- Meet your most critical safety challenges
Please contact us so that we can help you to enhance your lone worker safety program.