Working Alone

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Working Alone

What Does “Working Alone” Mean?

People are alone at work when they...

  • are on their own,
  • cannot be seen or heard by another person, or
  • cannot expect a visit from another worker.

That means if someone is working without another worker present, that person is considered to be working alone even if the person has contact with members of the public.

What Are Some of the Hazards of Working Alone?

Workers can be more vulnerable when they are alone, especially if they work at night or at remote locations. If a worker gets injured or finds him or herself in trouble, there needs to be a reliable, prearranged way for them to get help quickly. It’s not enough to rely on the assistance of the general public.

In other words, working alone may not itself be a hazard, but the fact that a worker is alone can magnify the risk associated with every hazard in the workplace, simply because there’s no guarantee there will be anyone else around to help if the worker is injured.

Things known to increase to the hazards associated with working alone include:

  • The presence of cash and goods, especially valuables like lottery tickets and tobacco products
  • Poor lighting and/or visibility, which can make a store more inviting to robbers
  • An isolated location
  • Unsecured or multiple entrances and exits where people could sneak in
  • The surrounding neighbourhood and clientele

Questions to consider when assessing the hazards to people working alone include:

  • Does the person have to work alone? Could another person work with them?
  • When and for how long will the person be alone? Could that amount of time be shortened?
  • Have there been incidents in the past? At your store? At another store in the area?
  • How will you know if a worker is in trouble?
  • Is there a way to check on workers who are alone?
  • Should you monitor the worker visually, via a security camera?
  • Is there a back-up plan in case of a power failure or if the phone doesn’t work?
  • Has the worker had enough training and education to be able to work alone safely? For example, does he or she know what to do if there is a robbery or emergency?
  • Has the worker been trained in emergency first aid? There must be a first aid kit available.
  • Does the worker know how to deal with irate customers and prevent violence?
  • Are there any additional hazards such as risks of
  • Does the worker have any pre-existing medical conditions that may increase the risk of working alone?
  • How accessible is the building? Could emergency response personnel get in easily?
  • Can doing higher-risk tasks be limited to times when there are other workers around? For example, jobs requiring heavy lifting, taking out the garbage or making bank deposits.

How Can the Hazards be Controlled?

The first consideration is to see if it is possible to reschedule workers so that they do not have to be alone in the first place.

Studies have shown that using a combination of control measures works best to protect people who have to work alone.

A good Robbery Prevention program is a very important part of controlling the hazards to workers who work alone. The Robbery Prevention program should include measures such as:

  • Limiting the amount of accessible cash and valuables by training workers in cash handling
  • Using a time-lock safe
  • Maintaining good visibility into and out of the premises
  • Putting the cash register where it can be seen from the outside
  • Having good, bright, balanced lighting both inside and outside of the store
  • Limiting access into and out of the store
  • Doing a security check before a person is left to work alone.
  • Check that all the doors and windows are locked and that no one is in the washroom or storage room
  • Using surveillance equipment like CCTV monitors and cameras
  • Using personal emergency transmitters (PETs) that are monitored by a security company 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
  • Posting signs visible to the public advertising that:
    • There is a time lock safe in use and it cannot be opened during late night hours
    • There is a limited amount of accessible cash and lottery tickets on the premises, and
    • The premises are monitored by video surveillance
  • Avoiding having minors work alone
  • Using a check-in procedure whenever someone is working alone

What is a “Check-In” Procedure?

There needs to be a way for workers to be in communication with another person when they are alone. This means having a system for establishing regular contact to make sure they are okay, such as a “check-in” procedure. Sometimes these are also called “person checks”.

Some of the most important features of a good check-in procedure are:

  • Having a designated person who will make contact with the worker. The contact person could be the employer, a supervisor, another worker or someone from a security company. This person needs to keep a record of each time they make contact
  • The designated contact person has to be trained in procedures for working alone and must know what to do if they can’t make contact
  • Contact needs to be made according to an established schedule – at agreed-upon times. The length of time between checks depends on the hazards faced by the worker and how hard it would be for him or her to get help in an emergency. Everyone has to agree on how often the checks will be made
  • A check at the end of the shift
  • A procedure to follow if the worker can’t be contacted – ie: calling at five or ten minute intervals one or two more times before going to physically check on the worker, getting another person to check on them, or calling 9-1-1

Workers may also initiate the check by phone, radio or in person at designated times.

Any reliable communication system (such as cell phones, radios or cameras) may be used for the checks as long as it will work in all situations. If not, there needs to be a back-up plan to deal with equipment or power failures, or times when the worker is away from the primary means of communication.

Download sample instructions for doing check-ins here.

Click here to download a worksheet to help estimate how often checks should be made.

How to Tell if Your System is Working to Protect Those Working Alone

There must be a procedure for keeping track of and reviewing incidents that happen when people are working alone.

Following up on incidents is one very important way for employers to be fully aware of the hazards facing workers so they can control them effectively. All incidents in which working alone increased the severity of the situation should be carefully analyzed so that changes can be made to prevent recurrences and patterns can be identified.

Auditing working alone procedures is a recommended strategy for finding out if they are working:

  • Conduct regular audits of working alone safety measures
  • Have an audit report done by an independent person by the end of the first year
  • Repeat the audit process every two years after that
  • Post the audit in a conspicuous place
  • Make sure the auditor’s recommendations for improvement get done
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