The lone worker
Article written by Monica A. Szabo, Executive Director Government, Municipal and Public Safety, Public Services Health & Safety Association (PSHSA)
Workers in housing can often find themselves in situations where they are working alone. There are inherent dangers in this, and workers can be put at risk if employers have no policy or procedures that recognize and seek solutions to the challenges working alone can present. Below are some considerations housing providers should take into account to foster safety in the workplace.
Ontario doesn’t have specific provincial legislation related to working alone but it is best practice and widely understood that working alone is a hazard to be protected against under the general duty clause. The Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) requires that all workers be safe and supervised while at work.
Do employers have the right to schedule an employee to work in a housing unit alone?
Yes. However, it is not as simple as merely scheduling a worker. There are many risks to consider in each circumstance to meet the OHSA responsibility to do everything reasonable to protect the worker. Here are a few factors to consider:
- What is a reasonable time for the worker to be working alone without checking in or being checked on?
- What time of day will the worker be alone (consider a call-in at night)?
- Is there a check-in process?
- What forms of communication are available?
- Is it necessary to see the worker, or is occasional voice communication adequate?
- Will emergency communication work and will it work at the time of day in question
- Is the work remote or isolated? Even a seldom-used storage room might be considered remote.
- Are there areas where work is conducted that are remote or invisible?
- Are there secure areas only workers can access, making it challenging to locate or enter if help is required?
Nature of the work or tasks performed
- Has adequate training been provided specific to the required tasks?
- What high-risk machinery or equipment might be used?
- Do environmental conditions increase potential for loss?
- Is the building locked, and if so, how might emergency services get to the worker?
- Does the work involve potential violent conflict with residents or public?
- Are fatigue or temperature extremes likely to be a factor?
Characteristics of the worker
- Does the worker have pre‐existing medical conditions that might make the risk too high for this person to work alone?
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 conducted alone, and ensure sufficient staff are available to enforce the 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 including:
- What to do in an emergency
- How to get help
- How to report accidents or near misses
- How to use alarms and communication equipment
- Responsibilities of supervisors and workers
For more information on the hazards associated with working alone, contact a PSHSA Regional Consultant at 416-250-2131 or 1-877-250-7444.
For more information on worker Health and Safety visit: pshsa.ca and use the Live Help Chat resource to answer all your questions.