Looking out for lone workers’ safety

Safety check-ins are crucial if you’re working alone or in isolation. This applies whether you’re outside in a remote location, in an office, or in a store. 

Photo of lone worker surveying field at the edge of a stand of trees

Photo credit: iStock.com/Melnikof

Happy Valentine’s Day! On this day of the couple, let’s talk about being alone – more specifically, being alone at work. If we work alone or in isolation, we need someone to check in on us. It’s just in case we’re ever injured or have an emergency and can’t make our own call for help.

I talked about this with an archaeologist who works on forestry blocks. She and her coworkers survey landforms to look for any areas that may have been First Nations’ villages or hunting locations. They’re often many kilometres into the woods, seeking artifacts and history. Sometimes they’re out of cellphone range.

“Rarely are you working alone but you could be up to 100 metres apart, so you aren’t necessarily within yelling range,” she says. In such cases, they use hand-held radios.

Designated check-ins

Each member of their crew checks in with a designated check-in person. It’s usually by text or phone.

“We have a back-up check-in person if we can’t get a hold of that person or if they don’t respond. And then once we’re are out of cell service, we always carry a satellite telephone,” she says.

B.C. employers must plan for the safety of people who work alone or in isolation. WorkSafeBC describes working alone or in isolation as “working in circumstances where assistance is not readily available in case of an emergency, injury or poor health.” Depending on the situation, employers need to establish how often check-ins are required. For more details, see section 4.21, Procedures for checking well-being of worker, in B.C.’s Occupational Health and Safety Regulation.

Recently I read about a satellite safety system for check-ins. AgSafeBC tweeted a link to this story about a farming family who used the system, known as SPOT. It’s a one-way messaging device with a built-in GPS chip and satellite modem. At the push of a button, lone workers send a pre-programmed “I’m okay” message that includes their GPS coordinates by text and/or email. (The device also has an “SOS” button.)

Risks when working with the public

People who work in retail or other small businesses have different safety issues to consider. You can find out more in the handbook Working Alone: A Handbook for Small Business and other resources available on the Working alone or in isolation web page on worksafebc.com.

Unfortunately, employers in these situations need safety procedures to protect lone workers against acts of violence from the public. I wrote about this in my post, Risks of working late-night retail. Also see Personal safety back-up for lone hotel workers and Working alone in different industries.

Do you have anything to say about working alone or in isolation? Do tell!


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