Many of the checks that exist in workplace safety culture emphasise the imperative role of supervision in the workplace in ensuring wokers’ safety. However, is the industry doing enough to safeguard the wellbeing of the many employees across the province who work alone? Statistics from international market researcher Berg Insight reveal that 53 million individuals work alone in Canada, the US and Europe.
It is unsurprising that according to research, workers who work night shifts, or shifts completely alone, are at a far greater risk of injury and death. Organisations are required to conduct safety risk assessments to examine potential workplace incidents for lone workers. Risks should then be prioritised based on the likelihood of this risk occurring, and how serious the consequences would be if this risk did occur. It is recommended that employees are involved in identifying the risks associated with their work, and in coming up with plans on how these risks can be mitigated.
Working Alone Plans are mandated in part 28 of the Occupational Health and Safety code in Alberta. Plans should be established between workers and supervisors and should specify tasks which are to be completed and the appropriate PPE for completing these tasks. Furthermore, these plans should ensure that employees have been provided with appropriate training for the tasks being completed, and should schedule and designate check ins during this time. Abiding strictly by scheduled check in times allows for alerts to be raised if a worker fails to check in.
In 2012, there were 977 workplace-related fatalities in Canada. Many of these deaths were caused by motor vehicles and machines. The most dangerous industries in terms of fatalities include construction industries, manufacturing, government services, transportation and storage, mining, quarrying and oil wells. Concerningly these industries, particularly transportation and mining, frequently require not only lone working, but also work with vehicles and machines. This puts these lone workers at a particularly high risk of injury or fatality.
However it’s not just the risk of injury or death which is a concern for those working alone. The risk of stress and emotional trauma must also be considered for these workers. Isolation can be as dangerous as the risks presented by machinery and vehicle use. Social connection has been linked to long-term wellbeing and health indicators, as well as with revenue and productivity in the work place. Furthermore, psychologists have identified that pervasive and ongoing loneliness can have a serious and detrimental effect on individuals’ mental and physical health. Although they are less easily quantified or managed via controls, these insidious and long-term risks should also be considered by employers who require their employees to consistently work alone.
It is evident that this vulnerable portion of our work force needs controls which cater to their specific needs. Employers should involve their workers in a comprehensive examination of workplace conditions to mitigate risks related not only to injury or fatalities in the workplace, but also to safeguard against the dangers of feeling vulnerable, stressed or alone at work.