One of the most difficult safety management challenges is the control of hazards associated with working alone. The most effective control is to not work alone, but the difficulty comes because this option requires expenditure.
WorkSafe Victoria recently released an information sheet on this hazard and listed the following hazard control options:
- Buddy system
- Environmental design
- Communication or location systems
- Movement records
- Knowledge sharing
WorkSafe wisely says that most workplaces will require a combination of these options to control the hazard of working alone.
Trying to reduce the hazards of working alone is a terrific indication of the economic health of a business, the level of safety commitment of a business owner or manager, and the state of safety knowledge in the company.
The buddy system is a very effective retrofit control but this may involve having one worker accompanying another purely for supervision. This has been an established practice in the escort services where a driver accompanies the sexworker and monitors the work without physically entering the client’s premises. Following the WorkSafe recommendation above, the driver and sexworker usually have a combination of “safe” time limits and mobile communications.
Environmental designs can often be seen in workplaces such as light night convenience stores or petrol stations. These involve bright lighting, barriers between customers and workers, a busy geographical location, emergency alarms, secure cash containers, amongst others. For fixed workplaces that operate outside regular working hours, environmental design is very effective but it works best when the control options are in the original design rather than retrofitted.
Alarms and work schedules are effective but not as much as the two options above and should be considered as supplementary controls.
Training and knowledge sharing about working alone should be enterprise-wide to be truly effective but require considerable planning.
It is a mistake to consider that the only hazard associated with working alone is occupational violence. It is vital that a broad range of scenarios be considered for this hazard when undertaking a risk assessment. Having said that, WorkSafe has also released new safety information on occupational violence which indicates some of the issues and scenarios to be considered for isolated workers. The information about emergency response, and more importantly planning the emergency response, is particularly useful
The handling of Working Alone, and occupational violence, can be an indicator of safety management proficiency because
- all options will require cost;
- the cost may be in the design and planning phase or in retrofitting and training; and
- the options chosen, or the combination of such, will show how seriously employers and business owners consider the health safety and welfare of their employees.
More information on Working Alone is available in a longer 2009 guidance note from WorkSafeWA.