Working Alone: Employer Responsibilities

Working Alone: Employer Responsibilities

Employers are obligated to keep workers safe. According the Occupational Health and Safety Act s.25(2)(h) they must do this by taking reasonable precautions for safety. This means that employers who have workers that work alone must take special precautions to keep those workers safe.

Who Works Alone?

For those who are used to working in a staffed office, busy factory, or construction site with lots of contractors, the concept of working alone seems pretty foreign. But, for many workers, working alone is a reality. There are many types of work that require workers to work alone, such as:

  • Retail clerks
  • Gas station attendants
  • Office workers who arrive early or stay late
  • Personal support workers
  • Home workers
  • Cleaners
  • Delivery Drivers

The list above is far from exhaustive. In fact, there are many instances and circumstances when a worker may find themselves working alone for a short time, or as part of their regular work.

What are the Employer’s Responsibilities?

In order to keep lone workers safe, employers must complete a risk assessment. This will help employers understand the hazards and associated risks that might exist. For example, there are more risks for workers who:

  • Work alone at night
  • Handle cash
  • Have access to pharmaceuticals (for example, a pharmacist at a 24-hour pharmacy)
  • Do not work in high visibility or well-lit areas
  • Service the public
  • Drive a cab
  • Enter people’s homes

Once the hazards and risks have been determined, a strong health and safety program is needed. The program should consist of a:

  • Policy – a statement of what the employer intends to do to keep workers safe
  • Procedures – these are processes that employees will follow. They are the “how”

There may be more than one policy for workers who work alone, and that’s ok. Each policy should be accompanied by a procedure; a series of steps that a worker can follow to ensure their safety when they work alone. Policies stipulate how much cash can be kept in a till drawer, or that delivery doors must remain locked. Policies must be individualized based on the hazards identified in the risk assessment.

In addition to risk assessments, and a safety program that consists of policies and procedures, employers must ensure that they provide other resources that will help lone workers be safe.

Alarms and Alerts: If necessary, alarms and alerts should be installed. These may alert workers that someone else is on site, or they might give workers a way to silently indicate that help is needed. This may also include key-fob, swipe card, or controlled-access entry ways that allow workers to control who enters the premises. Employers must provide these if they are vital to worker safety.

Barriers: For some workers, barriers are a practical safety option. Barriers put an actual physical barrier, such as a window or gate, between the worker and the public. This reduces the risk of physical violence to the worker, as well as the risk of being struck by an object that has been thrown. If barriers are required, employers must install them.

Emergency Response Plans that Include Emergency Phone Numbers and Procedures: Emergency Response Plans might cross-over with policies and procedures, but it is important that all workers know what to do in an emergency. They’re working alone, so there is no one around to ask. Have emergency phone numbers posted and be sure that lone workers know who to call if they need assistance.

Training: Employers must provide training to workers who work alone that includes policies and procedures and emergency response. As well, if applicable, employers should provide robbery prevention training. If there are special safety measures in place, employers must provide training. For example, workers who work alone and rely on a panic alarm to signal distress, require training on how and when to activate the alarm. Training is essential for all workers, but it is especially important for lone workers.

When it comes to safety, the employer is ultimately responsible for taking reasonable precautions to keep workers safe. Since lone workers are known to be at more risk, it is essential that employers have measures in place to ensure their safety. A risk assessment is the perfect place to start, as it will identify hazards and risks. From there, the employer can develop a program to control those hazards, supported through training and other measures.

Written by Jennifer Miller | Curriculum Development Coordinator

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