Working Alone

Many workers are placed at risk because they are required to work alone.

PSAC defines working alone to mean working at a worksite for any period of time as the only worker, where assistance is not readily available in the event of injury, ill health or emergency.

When working alone, a worker has no ability to call for help if incapacitated by an unexpected incident or emergency. When working alone, competent supervision and guidance is not present to ensure that appropriate controls are in place and safe pro­cedures are followed.

Many PSAC members are put at risk because employers have no policy or procedures that rec­ognize and resolve the problem of working alone. This is unacceptable.

Why is working alone hazardous?

Many jobs require two people to be done safely. When a worker is alone in jobs where exposure to a serious hazard is part of the working condi­tions, there is a greater chance of serious injury. A worker who has been seriously injured while working alone also may not be able to get immediate help or assistance and as a result, may suffer further injury or death.

Hazards that place the worker at risk include:

  • Falling
  • Vehicle accidents
  • Burns
  • Violence
  • Face-to-face contact with clients
  • Mechanical hazards
  • Exposure to extreme heat or cold
  • Working nights
  • Using pesticides
  • Lifting heavy objects
  • Compliance/enforcement duties

What are the legal requirements?

Employers are legally obligated to provide a healthy and safe workplace. Though the fed­eral jurisdiction (along with Ontario and Nova Scotia) doesn’t have specific legislation, government policies and procedures are widely understood to include working alone as a potential hazard under the general duty clause.

However, in many other jurisdictions – including Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Quebec, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Prince Edward Island – specific legislation exists in the occupational health and safety acts that deals with working alone.

What can you do with your joint health and safety committee about working alone?

STEP 1 – IDENTIFY TASKS and HAZARDS

The first step is to identify tasks that require work­ers to work alone. It is preferable to the employer’s buy-in and cooperation employer. How­ever if the employer does not give its support, locals should help identify tasks, as well as hazards or potential problems.

STEP 2 – ENSURE THERE IS A WORKING-ALONE POLICY and MAKE RECOMMENDATIONS 

Recommendations can include:

a) Developing or re-examining employer poli­cies regarding working alone. The policy should list all tasks with inherent dangers that should never be done alone and ensure suffi­cient staff are available to enforce this policy. The policy should also instruct members not to attempt to perform work identified as hazard­ous without the assistance of a second person.

b) Developing written procedures covering dan­gerous work situations should include:

  • What to do in an emergency
  • How to get help
  • Reporting accidents or near misses
  • Using alarms and communication equipment
  • Responsibilities of supervisors.

c) Establishing a check-in procedure.

The procedure could be an email at the start and finish of each day. However, in higher risk occupations, much more frequent check-ins should be required.  The interval between check-ins is based on the risk involved in doing the work.

A written procedure must state that the length of time between checks and check-ins will be documented. The length of time between check-ins must be determined by the supervisor and the employee, in consultation with the local joint health and safety committee. At a very minimum, this schedule would include contact at the start and end of the business day.

Written procedures must also include the steps to be taken if a check-in/out is missed.

STEP 3 – FOLLOW UP ON EDUCATION AND TRAINING

Education and training requirements should be included in the Working Alone Policy, but putting the pen to paper isn’t sufficient.  The JHSC or policy committee should ensure that the employer is also providing the required education and training so that all workers fully understand the policy and procedures. The education and training must also ensure workers are fully trained to rec­ognize and deal with the hazards they face in their work. Training must be offered to all new employees Updates to training must be provided for all workers on a regular basis, and reports on all training activities should be brought to the attention of the policy committee at the very least on an annual basis.

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July 19, 2022