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How can employers identify a hazardous lone working environment? 

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Whether working from home, at the office, or off-site, lone workers can be found within a variety of familiar environments. Yet just because an environment is familiar, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s safe.

As outlined in ‘What is a lone worker?’, the belief that most lone workers are found in foreign, unfamiliar environments is a common misconception that can easily increase the risks faced by these workers. 

To ensure your business keeps its lone working force safe and meets its obligations under relevant health and safety legislation, you need to be able to effectively identify and measure the risks and hazards posed to employees, contractors, or freelancers working alone in these locations.

This process should form the foundation of any successful risk assessment checklist, as a part of a wider-ranging lone worker health and safety plan. That said, there are some established methods which can aid your business in the identification of hazardous working environments that can support the protection of lone workers. 

17 Questions That Will Help Your Business Identify Hazardous Lone Working Environments

What follows is a brief list of questions that can help identify potentially hazardous working environments. This is by no means a complete list, and should serve as general guidance only: it is not a replacement nor a stand-in for a more robust health and safety policy.

  1. Does the environment in question carry any inherent risk, such as extreme temperatures?
  2. Will chemicals and / or other hazardous substances be present on-site?
  3. Is there a high risk of emergency situations arising, including but not limited to equipment failure or fire?
  4. How long will the employee be operating alone within this environment, and how frequently will they be reporting in?
  5. Does the worker have adequate access to safe transportation both to and from the location?
  6. Are there safe entry and exit points to the site, and do these utilise card entry systems?
  7. Is there adequate access to first aid facilities, rest, hygiene, and refreshments like food and water?
  8. Could emergency services reach the location without being impeded?
  9. Can all required substances, goods, and equipment like portable ladders or trestles be safely handled by a single person?
  10. Can any machinery involved in the operation by handled by the lone worker without supervision or assistance?
  11. Will the worker need to lift objects that are considered too large for the one person?
  12. Does the environment pose the risk of violence? For example, stores where cash is held on the premises, or off-site locations where clients could be unpredictable in nature?
  13. Does the environment pose an increased risk to women or young workers?
  14. Does the site fall within Cellular coverage? Unlike Blackline Safety’s Loner M6, M6I, and 900, many lone worker safety solutions rely on cellular coverage for effective operation.
  15. Does the environment in question require any specialised training to ensure workers are able to safely operate within it, and address any challenges presented to them? 

What if an environment is too hazardous for a lone worker? 

Identifying hazardous working environments is just one part of a much larger process. What is done with this information ultimately makes the most difference to the prolonged health and safety of lone workers. That is, identifying an environment as a hazardous one doesn’t immediately make it any safer to operate within.

Businesses are required to take any necessary actions to ensure lone workers aren’t put at a greater risk than other employees, and that action is taken to mitigate against any identified risks. To achieve this, extra risk control measures may be necessary, including the implementation of a thorough and effective lone worker policy.

Generally speaking, this should include the provision of proper training for lone workers, address any inherent risks posed by the working environment, as well as provide employees with adequate lone worker protection systems and equipment to ensure that no matter how remote, they’re never truly alone. 

Are there any environments That are strictly prohibited? 

The ins-and-outs of specific lone worker OH&S regulations differs from country to country, but in general terms there are some environments where lone workers are either prohibited from working alone, or require further training or assistance to do so. Some of these include: 

  • Employees working in highly confined spaces like pipes, ducts, ceiling voids, tanks, or manholes where rescue workers are required to be present on-site.
    • This also extends to enclosed rooms and other small spaces where natural ventilation is deemed to be inadequate.
  • Worker operating on, near, or at exposed live electricity conductors. This includes the manipulation of live, un-insulated power conductors.
  • Lone workers operating ladders or other equipment that requires ‘footing’ by a second party.
  • Sites where the erection of scaffolding or similar equipment is required.
  • Jobs that make use of certain dangerous machinery, including but not limited to: 
    • Dough mixers
    • Slicing machines
    • Hydraulic and pneumatic power presses
    • Potato chipping machines
    • Meat mincing machines
    • Woodworking machines
    • Meat milling machines
    • Wire stitching machines
    • Guillotine machines
    • Platen printing machines