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How to Keep Lone Workers Safe

April 13, 2021
Connected devices ensure lone workers, who are inherently more vulnerable, are connected and safe while working in the field or from home.

Ever since Samuel Slater, aka the “Father of the American Industrial Revolution,” opened the first textile mill in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, back in 1793, worker safety has continued to be a growing issue in the United States.

Since the federal government passed the Occupational Health and Safety Act of 1970, the area of worker safety has evolved significantly. Companies have discovered and developed new ways to protect people in all roles and industries, particularly those who are more vulnerable and face more safety hazards than the average worker.

This includes people working alone and remotely, a demographic that has experienced a major increase in the past year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, 17%of U.S. employees worked from home five days or more each week, which dramatically increased to 44%during the pandemic, according to statista.

What is a Lone Worker?

As the name suggests, lone workers are people who perform their jobs alone, without someone else present and without any supervision.  Lone workers are also people who are in the same building or area but are out of hearing distance. Lone workers can also be working with another person, but are performing work in that you couldn’t provide help in an emergency? Under these definitions, the number of lone workers increases dramatically, especially with the surge in people currently working remotely and from home. 

What Makes Lone Workers More Vulnerable?

Lone workers face a range of safety hazards as long as the range of industries that employ people who work alone. The most common—and this isn’t only for lone work—are slips, trips and falls, which were the cause of 700 deaths in 2016, as well as close to 50,000 injuries that required time off work.

Those who work alone in public or with individual clients and patients are at increased risk of violence that can not only cause physical harm, but emotional and psychological as well. In some cases, this can result in the worker developing post-traumatic stress disorder. More than 20,000 workers in the private industry experienced trauma from non-fatal workplace violence in 2018, which also made them unable to do their jobs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Another common safety hazard that lone workers face is from machinery and equipment, which can roll over or fall on the worker, injuring or trapping them. Also, it is not uncommon for workers to become entangled in machinery, which can result in debilitating, if not deadly, consequences. 

Why are Risk Assessments Important for Lone Workers?

The hazards outlined above aren’t the only risks a lone worker may face. Every workplace has its own unique safety hazards and idiosyncrasies that their workers face every day. The best weapon to combat those hazards is to conduct a thorough safety hazard assessment and a complete audit on any potential safety risks (off all severities) the lone workers are facing.

Once a hazard assessment has been performed, strategies can then be explored to mitigate—if not eliminate—any existing dangers. Hazard mitigation does not only include physical modifications to the work environment but should also include safety education and training as well as building a positive safety culture where workers feel comfortable enough to express their honest concerns.

However, workplace circumstances can often change, so hazard assessments need to be done diligently and regularly; they are an evolving document that adapts to a dynamic environment. Legendary Chinese general Sun Tzu once said, “Know thy enemy and know yourself.” This rings particularly true when it comes to worker safety and understanding what adversaries your lone workers are against.

What are the Advantages of an Automated Check-in System?

Employers can ensure the safety of their lone workers with the help of modern technology such as smartphones and connected wireless devices, which provide a dependable channel that ensures quick, accessible communication in the case of an emergency. An automated lone worker monitoring system is an effective tool that requires the lone worker to check in and check out with the employer at predetermined times, confirming their safety and well-being with their manager. If a worker misses their check-out, the system can immediately request help, using advanced satellite and GPS location tracking, to make sure aid is sent to the correct place. 

What is the Impact of a Lone Worker Monitoring System?

Regardless of where the lone worker is located, the more dependable options for communication, the better. Lone worker monitoring systems that allow workers to send voice or text messages about their situation that could be incredibly important, especially in an emergency situation where the difference in seconds could be the difference in life or death.

In addition to having a channel to get needed help, quality communication also includes consistent interaction and connection between the manager and the lone worker. That can support not only operations and work tasks but also the mental health of employees who know someone is watching their back, and on a deeper level, make them feel cared for and valued.

Regardless of how the employer communicates with their remote team, the chosen channel should be an attested, reliable lifeline that can be depended upon in times of need and emergency—no matter how minor or serious. 

How can Lone Workers Benefit from Contact Tracing?

In the past, contact tracing was done manually with a person tracking down and contacting every person who was in contact with an infected person. Thanks to connected technologies, contact tracing has become automated. A number of available apps that will save significant amounts of money and time by leveraging existing devices are already in workers’ pockets.

However, a common concern of being so constantly connected with the employer is lack of privacy, and this extends to contact tracing. However, there are protocols in place to protect workers’ privacy, such as apps or devices that are only active during work hours. Additionally, employers must have explicit consent from its team members, who also must be educated about what information will be collected and how it will be used. If a workplace outbreak does unfortunately occur, contact tracing will stop the spread of COVID-19 in its tracks, providing another level of safety for the lone working team. 

Why is Supporting Lone Workers a Worthy Investment?

Regardless of which monitoring and check-in tool or system is used, employers that invest in the safety of their most valuable asset—their workers—is never a waste of money. Hundreds of lone and remote workers across North America, and across many industries, employ connected worker tools to protect themselves and their team, finding it a cost- and safety-effective solution to their lone worker-safety challenges.

“Safety is of the utmost importance to our organization due to the remote field work requirements and the risks that are associated with that work,” explains Cameron Loganberg, an operations technologist in timber sale.

Kurt Siemens, a water and wastewater utilities operator, says that having an automated monitoring system provides him with some invaluable inner calm and confidence, benefitting his mental health. “I work alone,” he says. “No one sees me from the moment I walk out my front door to the moment I walk back in on a workday.” He pauses. “My peace of mind is that my family knows when I work alone, I’m not alone.”

Gen Handley is a marketing and growth coordinator for SafetyLine Lone Worker, an automated, cloud-based lone worker monitoring service that has helped companies protect remote or isolated workers for more than 20 years. Gen has more than 10 years of freelance writing and marketing experience. 

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