The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries has produced a presentation highlighting the risks and recommended safety measures for lone workers.
Lone workers are especially vulnerable to injury from workplace violence - particularly young, pregnant or disabled workers, or those for whom English is not their first language. However, with the exception of the shipbuilding industry, there are no federal laws recommending safety measures for lone workers.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) says employers should check on lone workers “at regular intervals” but does not specify the frequency of “regular intervals”; and few states have introduced legislation to protect lone workers from the risk of injury.
Washington´s Late Night Retail Rule
One state that has made headway in protecting lone workers from the risk of injury is Washington. The state enacted a “Late Night Retail Rule” in 1990 which enforced a duty of care upon employers to implement security measures and procedures in order to protect lone workers employed in retail stores between the hours of 11:00pm and 6:00am.
The Rule stipulates specific security measures to discourage crime (outdoor lighting, notices about employee inaccessibility to safes, etc.) and the manner of training that should be provided to lone workers in order to increase their situational awareness and enhance their personal safety. Research published in 2009 revealed violence-related workers´ compensation claims in the Grocery Stores industry subsequently fell by more than half.
State Keen to Further Protect Lone Workers
In addition to its “Late Night Retail Rule”, the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries has produced a presentation highlighting the risks and recommended safety measures for lone workers. The presentation - “Working Alone Safely: Controlling the Risks of Solitary Work” - encourages employers to develop procedures protecting the welfare of their lone workers. Among the recommendations made by the presentation, employers should:
• Conduct risk assessments to determine if work may be done safely by lone workers.
• Set limits and introduce control measures for what is permissible during lone work.
• Establish a clear action plan and train lone workers on what to do in the event of an emergency.
• Require supervisors to make periodic visits to observe lone workers.
• Ensure regular contact is made between lone workers and supervisors via phone or radio.
• Use warning devices that alert others if signals are not received periodically from a lone worker.
• Verify lone workers have returned to a fixed base or returned home after completing a task.
OSHA Releases Advice for Protecting Healthcare Lone Workers
One exception to the general “regular intervals” advice provided by OSHA is in healthcare. In 2015, the Administration updated its “Guidelines for Preventing Workplace Violence for Healthcare and Social Services Workers” (PDF) to include a section containing twenty-eight considerations healthcare organizations should take into account when conducting a risk assessment to determine if work may be done safely by lone healthcare workers.
Again, one of the key recommended safety measures for lone workers is that they are provided with personal alarm devices and a means of communication with colleagues when assistance is required. Naturally, it would further benefit healthcare workers if they were to have a warning device that alerts others if signals are not periodically received, as this could be a life-saving tool in the event a healthcare worker sustains an injury or is involved in an accident that prevents them from using a personal alarm.