Working Alone or In Isolation

What does Working Alone and Working in Isolation really mean?

Working Alone means performing work by someone who is the only worker for that employer at that workplace at any time, and is not directly supervised by the employer (or anyone else designated as a supervisor) at any time.

(A supervisor is defined as a person who has charge of a workplace or authority over a worker.  It is not restricted to people with that particular job title.)

Consider if:

        Nobody can hear or see you (being completely by yourself),

        None of your coworkers can hear or see you (you might be surrounded by other people but you are still considered to be working alone when you are the only person from your employer performing work at that specific location).

        When your employer or your supervisor is not directly supervising you,


Working alone may include working in the lab or office after hours by yourself; working in the library by yourself but may be surrounded by students, contractors, etc.; or working in or on HSC property with another coworker but not supervised by a University of Manitoba supervisor.  

Working in Isolation means working in situations or locations where assistance is not readily available in the event of injury, illness, or emergency.

Working in isolation may include working in a remote area doing research for the University, where Emergency Services will not be able to get to you right away or at all if needed; or working in a storage room where people outside of this room might not be able to assist you.

 

In order to determine whether or not assistance is readily available, the following conditions should be considered:

·      Presence of others:  Are other people in the vicinity?

·      Awareness:  Will other persons capable of providing assistance be aware of the worker's need?

·      Willingness:  Is it reasonable to expect those other persons will provide assistance?

·      Timeliness:  Will assistance be provided within a reasonable period of time?

For regulation definitions please refer to Workplace Safety and Health Act and Regulations

What is a Working Alone/Working in Isolation procedure?

A Working Alone/Isolation procedure is a plan that creates the conditions for effective communication to occur between the employer and the individual working alone and the timely execution of emergency responses in the event there is any failure in communication between these two parties at any time while individual is performing  work alone. 

This is in place so the employer/supervisor is aware that the individual working alone is safe throughout the entire period of time that he/she is performing the assigned work alone and so the employer/supervisor can react promptly if the individual working alone is in jeopardy or fails to communicate that he or she is safe.

In situations where an individual working alone encounters risks due to the unsafe environmental conditions, hazardous work activities present and where the risk of injury or loss of life is increased, then getting aid to the emergency incident location on time plays a crucial role in the fate of the worker performing the work activity alone.

Why is it important to have a Working Alone/Working in Isolation procedure?

This procedure is a legislative requirement to have this procedure in place for every activity that requires an individual to work alone. 

Prior to working Alone or in Isolation

The person assigned to work alone and the supervisor or employer assigning the working alone work activity must work together to identify the hazards and risks that may arise from the specific activities to be performed, the workplace where the work is to be completed, and the variety of conditions or circumstances that may occur while working alone.

Following the identification of risks and hazards associated with performing work alone, the development of procedures to address these identified hazards and risks is required  in order to prevent, eliminate, or reduce these hazards and to enable the individual working alone to perform his/her work safely.

Below are some examples of what an employer/supervisor and individual to perform work alone should consider and discuss:

Hazard and Risk Identification for the task:

·         What are the specific hazards to arise from the work activity to be performed?

                                 i.            Biological - bacteria, viruses, insects, plants, birds, animals, and humans, etc.,

                               ii.            Chemical - depends on the physical, chemical and toxic properties of the chemical.

                              iii.            Ergonomic - repetitive movements, improper set up of workstation, etc.,

                             iv.            Physical - radiation, magnetic fields, pressure extremes (high pressure or vacuum), noise, etc.,

                               v.            Psychosocial – fatigue, stress, violence, bullying including cyber bullying/harassment, etc.,

                             vi.            Safety - slipping/tripping hazards, inappropriate machine guarding, equipment malfunctions or breakdowns etc.,

Hazard and Risk Assessment for the task:

·         What is the risk associated with the task at hand?  Is the likelihood of the risk to occur high, medium or low risk?  Below are just a few examples:

                                 i.            Falls from working with heights – high, medium or low risk?

                               ii.            Working in a confined space – high, medium or low risk?

                              iii.            Working with electrical energy – high, medium or low risk?

                             iv.            Cuts or lacerations from working with power tools or knives and other sharp objects – high, medium or low risk?

                               v.            Burns from chemical or fire use – high, medium or low risk?

                             vi.            Exposure to biological or radiation hazards – high, medium or low risk?

                            vii.            Ergonomic issues from prolonged awkward or static postures, etc. – high, medium or low risk?

 

·         Are there controls in place to eliminate or reduce the hazards arising from the work activity to be performed? Below are just a few examples:

 

                                 i.            A Safework procedure for the specific task will reduce the hazard,

                               ii.            Training and qualifications on specific task to be performed  and safe work procedures- reduces risk

                              iii.            Good housekeeping practices - cleaning floors clean right away to eliminate slips, trips and falls

                             iv.            Personal Protective equipment available -reduces exposure to hazards present,

 

What are some factors, and risks associated with working alone?  Below are a few examples. Identify as much as you can to prepare yourself against risks that might arise.

                                 i.            Working with the public contact with people can increase the risk of encountering harassment, sexual harassment, and violence.

                               ii.            Is the consumption of alcohol present in or nearby the location you are working in alone? – The presence of alcohol, where contact with the public is present, can severely escalate circumstances into hazardous situations.

                              iii.            Carrying out inspection, enforcement, and educational duties – i.e. security guards that patrol, staff performing inspections or audits for other areas of the organization; faculty researchers; these types of occupations increase the risks of exposure to violence, harassment, sexual harassment, etc.

                             iv.            Driving a vehicle – injuries can occur from vehicular collisions

                               v.            Environmental hazards- Environmental conditions such as extreme temperatures, rain, snow, fog can affect the work function you normally perform safely and with ease by increasing the frequency and severity of hazards that can arise. (I.e. Hot weather can increase the risks of heat stroke, heat exhaustion. Cold weather can increase risks of hypothermia, frostbite, death if unprepared for the situation especially when working alone in a remote area where you are in isolation. Rain, snow and fog can increase risks of slips,trips and falls, as well as increase the frequency of work related injuries since visibility, lack of balance, and other factors might come into play.)

                             vi.            Working with money-being alone with money can bring negative attention and risks your way.

What are some factors to consider when assessing the workplace or situations?

The following are some points to consider.  Each circumstance will be different, so be sure to adapt the questions to suit your situation.

Length of time the person will be working alone:

·      What is a reasonable length of time for the person to be alone?

·      Is it reasonable for the person to be alone at all?

·      How long will the person be alone to finish the job?

·      What time of the day will the person be alone?

Communication:

·      What forms of communication are available?

·      Is it necessary to "see" the person, or is voice communication adequate?

·      Will emergency communication systems work properly in all situations?

·      If the communication systems are located in a vehicle, do you need alternative arrangements to cover the person when they are away from the vehicle?

Location of the work:

·      Is the work in a remote or isolated location? (Remember that a remote location does not have to be far away. Storage rooms that are rarely used can be considered remote or isolated.)

·      Is transportation necessary to get there? What kind of transportation is needed?

·      Is the vehicle equipped with emergency supplies such as food and drinking water, as well as a first aid kit?

·      Will the person need to carry some or all of the emergency supplies with them when they leave the vehicle?

·      Does the person need training to be able to use the first aid equipment?

·      What are the consequences if the vehicle breaks down?

·      Will the person have to leave the vehicle for long periods of time?

Type or nature of work:

·      Is there adequate training and education provided for the person to be able to work alone safely?

·      Is there adequate personal protective equipment available? Is it in good working order?

·      What machinery, tools or equipment will be used?

·      Is there a high risk activity involved?

·      Is fatigue likely to be a factor?

·      Are there extremes of temperature?

·      Is there risk of an animal attack, insect bite (poisonous, or allergic reaction), etc.?

·      If the person is working inside a locked building, how will emergency services be able to get in? (For example: a night cleaner in a secure office building)

·      Does the work involve working with money or other valuables?

·      Does the work involve seizing property or goods (such as repossession, recovering stolen property, etc)?

Characteristics required by the individual who is working alone

·            Are there any pre-existing medical conditions that may increase the risk?

·            Does the person have adequate levels of experience and training? (For example: first aid, communication systems repair, vehicle breakdowns, relevant administrative procedures, and/or outdoor survival?)

Do all of these hazards and factors increase the risk for this work? Is it LOW, MEDIUM OR HIGH RISK WORK now? (This is with the hazards/risks identified from the task and hazards/risks associated with working alone, the location hazards, physical and medical conditions of the employee to work alone, etc.)

Can this task be done with two people instead?  You might want to consider prohibiting certain tasks from being completed by a person working alone or working in isolation. (Example: Doing work with biological or chemical hazards alone on weekends or after hours/late at night.)

Or

Perhaps limiting the conditions for performing a specific type of work activity while working alone. (Example: performing High risk work alone and in isolation only within regular business hours so that there will be someone in the workplace that can check in on their progress.)

The development of a Working Alone procedure should be performed with the collaboration of the worker assigned to be working alone with the most expertise/experience in performing the specific task at hand and the supervisor or employer.  In addition, the safety and health committee or ESHO should be consulted with as well.

Working Alone Systems used in a procedure – Below are just some examples of systems that can be used that provide contact between the employer/supervisor and the individual working alone.

i.              Second Person or Buddy system – Having someone with the same experience in the task to be performed alone accompany the worker who is working alone or in isolation but only to observe from afar while the work is conducted and to perform emergency protocols necessary when an emergency arises.  This system must still be used in combination with a check in procedure with their supervisor or employer. 

ii.             Personal Check by another person- A contact person from the same employer as the lone worker, makes sure that the lone worker is safe through continuous periodic visits and records findings for each visit. This contact person must be trained in executing emergency response procedures in the event the lone worker is discovered to be in need of emergency assistance or the lone worker fails to meet the contact person during the scheduled visits.

iii.            Regular, Scheduled Telephone contact – regular, scheduled communication established by phone between the lone worker and the contact person from the same employer.  NOTE:  just having a cell phone is not a Working Alone Plan, there must be a procedure in place.

Please refer to the Provincial Code of Practice for Workers Working Alone or in Isolation for more details on different systems

What is an example of a check-in procedure?

It is important that a check-in procedure be in place.  Decide if a verbal check-in is adequate, or if the employee must be accounted for by a visual check.  Make sure your plan is appropriate for both regular business hours as well as after main office hours.

For most lone workers, the telephone will be the main source of contact.  If you work at a desk or station, have a telephone close by.  If you are away from a main office or work station, the use of a cell phone is very helpful.  If a cell phone is unreliable in your area, be sure to have alternative methods of communication available (such as use of public telephones, site visits or satellite technology).

When travelling out of the office, the main contact person should know the following details:

·         Destination.

·         Estimated time of arrival.

·         Return time or date.

·         Contact information.

·         Mode of travel (public transit, car, plane, etc.).

·         Alternate plans in the event of bad weather, traffic problems, etc.

An example of a check-in procedure is:

·         Prepare a daily work plan so it is known where the lone employee will be and when.

·         Identify one main person to be the contact at the office, plus a backup.

·         Define under what circumstances the lone employee will check in and how often.

·         Stick to the visual check or call-in schedule.  You may wish to have a written log of contact.

·         Have the contact person call or visit the lone employee periodically to make sure he or she is okay.

·         Pick out a code word to be used to identify or confirm that help is needed.

·         Develop an emergency action plan to be followed if the lone employee does not check-in when he or she is supposed to.

 

·         Note: High risk activities require shorter time intervals between checks. The preferred method for checking is visual or two-way voice contact, but where such a system is not practicable, a one-way system which allows the worker to call or signal for help and which will send a call for help if the worker does not reset the device after a predetermined interval is acceptable.