Risks of lone working: How to protect yourself?
In North America, around 25 million employees are considered lone workers. Being more exposed to risks, this data quickly highlights the importance of taking measures to preserve their health and safety.
It is therefore crucial for employers to be aware of the challenges associated with lone work, and to take responsibility for employees who work in isolation. This can be achieved by risk analysis, training for lone workers, and providing safety equipment or alert devices to ensure the health and safety of their lone workers.
I - Risks of lone working
What is risk?
A risky situation is one in which there is a potential danger, more or less predictable. Certain work circumstances are risky due to the nature of the tasks themselves. This is, for example, the case of tasks conducted at heights. Indeed, falls from heights are the third leading cause of workplace accidents.
Hazardous lone working situations
Working out of sight or earshot of others can be dangerous, especially in risky situations. In such cases, it becomes more complex or even impossible to reach out for help if needed, leading to more severe consequences.
Therefore, it’s crucial to regulate lone work, especially when it involves high-risk activities. These activities can be related to working at heights, in confined spaces, with electricity, hazardous materials, or even with a public that can be violent.
The initial minutes following an accident are often crucial. Therefore, if an accident does occur, it’s important to implement the most effective alert measures possible.
What are the risks of lone working?
Recent investigations show that nearly half of severe non-fatal workplace accidents occur when a person is in a lone work situation. The risks of serious injuries are particularly pronounced for these workers.
In parallel, 80% of fatal accidents reportedly happen without witnesses. Colleagues and supervisors of the workers involved were not informed of a change in circumstances that led to the incident. This raises the question of the handling of the situation by the emergency services. Could it have changed the outcome of some of these fatal accidents?
It’s highly probable, which is why most regulations generally require, in addition to various safety equipment, the use of a specific communication device.
II - How to protect lone workers from risks entailed?
Indeed, laws and regulations provide instructions and procedures to follow in order to ensure the health and safety of lone workers. They offer employers clear guidelines to follow regarding lone workers' protection and also ensure compliance with these measures.
1. Analyze the risks faced by lone workers
First and foremost, the employer is responsible for the health and safety of their employees. Regardless of whether the workers are isolated or not, the employer must ensure the implementation of necessary measures to preserve their physical and mental well-being.
To achieve this, the employer needs to initially analyze the context of lone work and conduct a risk assessment. This assessment helps identify hazards and evaluate the associated risks. Based on the obtained results, the employer should implement appropriate measures to eliminate or control the identified risks as much as possible.
In France specifically, the Labor Code mandated that the employer establishes a Risk Assessment Document comprising four steps:
- Preparation of risk assessment;
- Identification of risks;
- Classification of risks;
- Proposal of preventive actions.
The aim of creating such a document, applicable to all employees and their assigned tasks, is to reduce accidents and occupational illnesses.
2. Implement prevention measures to limit hazardous situations
Once the risk analysis is conducted, the employer can attempt to minimize lone work situations by reducing their duration or by adding one or more workers to the tasks in question.
In cases where lone work is unavoidable, the employer must ensure that their employees are properly equipped. They are obligated to provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) based on the tasks performed and the conditions in which they are carried out. These equipment items vary depending on the activities involved: they can include protective gloves, safety shoes, or construction helmets, for example. This broadly encompasses any clothing or accessory an employee uses to physically protect themselves against specific risks.
Furthermore, the employer must also provide training to ensure that employees understand the characteristics of their work environment, the risks involved, and the means to mitigate them. This training can include instruction on how to properly use the safety equipment provided by the company.
These measures are preventive because they are implemented before the danger, once the hazardous situation has been identified and analyzed.
III - Alerte devices facilitate assistance for lone workers in danger
It is strongly recommended, even mandatory in certain circumstances, to equip lone workers with alert devices. This stool enables them to signal hazardous situations and to receive assistance if needed.
1. Equip lone workers with Isolated Worker Alarm Devices
Isolated Worker Alarm Devices can be fixed or mobile, although the mobile ones are preferable for reasons of reliability. The device is worn by the employees during their working hours and manually or automatically signals unusual situations. It alerts relevant supervisors and communicates the position of the endangered worker.
The aim of this kind of device is to facilitate the intervention of emergency services after preventive measures have been taken. This ensures efficient and rapid assistance to the lone worker in danger. A solution like NEOVIGIE can detect falls or no motion and automatically alert an internal supervisor or a remote monitoring center to facilitate the worker’s assistance. In that case, the worker’s real-time position is then communicated. Additionally, the lone worker can also manually trigger an alarm, in the case of an assault for example.
This equipment ensures the health and safety of the lone workers and also maintains constant communication with them. However, to ensure its proper functioning, teams need to be trained in its usage. That’s why we have designed the application to be as user-friendly as possible. We have also automated a set of tasks to minimize the associated mental load. Additionally, it’s important to plan ahead for the procedures to be put in place if an alarm is triggered in order to optimize the use of these devices.
2. Establish incident reports to adapt your procedures
Finally, it’s important to continue the analysis process once the workers are equipped with Isolated Worker Alarm Devices. Because a device isn’t universal and must be adapted to each situation encountered by lone workers, the employer must carefully monitor the circumstances in which alarms are triggered and how they are handled.
At NEOVIGIE, we enable supervisors to generate alarm and device usage reports. At first, they allow for understanding risky situations and consequently monitoring them more closely. Secondly, they provide insights into the use of alert solutions. This information can help supervisors adapt the pre-established settings to their specific needs.
Lone work itself is not risky, but it requires careful management from employers. If it’s not possible for employers to eliminate lone work, they must become familiar with the circumstances under which this work is carried out and minimize associated risks as much as possible.
Employers should therefore equip their workers according to their needs. They should then establish an alert procedure and equip them with alert devices. These devices enable employers to be informed in real-time about dangerous situations their employees may face.
August 19, 2023