Working alone

Any person working without the direct supervision of the employer or anyone else designated as a supervisor is working alone. Working alone applies when:

  • Nobody can hear or see you
  • None of your coworkers can hear or see you (you might be surrounded by other people, but you are still considered alone when you are the only person from your employer performing work at a specific location)
  • Your employer or supervisor is not directly supervising you

Working alone may include:

  • Working in the lab or office after hours by yourself
  • Working in a library by yourself (though you may be surrounded by students, etc.)
  • Working on Health Sciences Centre property with a co-worker without the supervision of your University of Manitoba supervisor.

Working in isolation

Any person working in a situation or location where assistance is not readily available in the event of injury, illness or emergency is working in isolation. 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
  • Working in a storage room where people outside of the room might not be able to assist you 

In order to determine whether or not assistance is readily available, consider the following:

  • 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?

Second person or buddy system

Having someone with the same experience in the task being performed accompany the worker who is performing the task so they may observe from afar while the task is conducted. In the event of an emergency, this worker can enact emergency response procedures. This system must still be used in combination with a check-in procedure with the supervisor or employer.

Personal check by another person

Having a contact person from the same employer as the lone work make sure the worker is safe. This person will conduct 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.

Regular, scheduled telephone contact

Establishing regular, scheduled communication between the lone worker and the contact person from the same employer. 

Please note: Having a cell phone does not qualify as an adequate working alone plan. There must be a specific procedure in place.

Please see the Provincial Code of Practice for Workers Working Alone or in Isolation for more details on practices and procedures.

Check-in procedure

It is important that a check-in procedure is in place for any individuals working alone or in isolation. When developing the procedure, you must whether a verbal check-in is adequate or if the visual check is required. Your place should be appropriate for regular business hours and after main office hours.

For most lone workers, a telephone will be the main source of contact. If you work at a desk or station, make sure you have a telephone close by. Cell phones are useful if you are away from the main office or workstation. If a cell phone is unreliable in your area, you should have alternative communication methods available (e.g., public telephones, site visits or satellite technology.)

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

  • Your destination
  • Estimated time of arrival
  • Return time or date
  • Contact information
  • Mode of travel
  • Alternate plans in the event of bad weather, traffic problems, etc.

Examples of check-in procedures:

  • Preparing a daily work plan so it is known where the lone employee will be and when they will be there
  • Identifying one main person as the office contact plus a backup
  • Defining how often and under what circumstance the employee will check in
  • Sticking to a visual check or call-in schedule (you may wish to keep a written contact log)
  • Picking out a code word the lone worker can use to identify or confirm they need help
  • Developing an emergency action plan to follow if the lone employee does not check-in when they are supposed to 

High-risk activities require shorter time intervals between check-ins. 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 foes not reset the device after a predetermined interval is acceptable. 

Prior to working alone or in isolation

The person assigned to work alone and the supervisor or employer assigning the task, must work together to identify hazards and risks that may arise from the specific activities being performed, the area the work is being performed and the conditions or circumstances that may occur while working alone.

Following the identification of the risks and hazards, the supervisor or employer and the individual working alone must address the risks and hazards in order to prevent, eliminate or reduce them so the individual working alone may perform their work safely.

Hazard and risk identification for the task

Examples of what an employer/supervisor and individual who will be working alone should consider and discuss.

What are the specific hazards that may arise from the task?

  • Biological: is the individual working with bacteria, viruses, plants, birds, animals and humans that may pose a risk to them?
  • Chemical: what are the physical, chemical and toxic properties of the chemical?
  • Ergonomic: Are their repetitive movements involved? Is the workstation set up properly?
  • Physical: Is the worker being exposed to radiation, magnetic fields, pressure extremes (high pressure or vacuum) or noise?
  • Psychosocial: Is the worker experiencing fatigue, stress, violence, bullying (including cyber-bullying) or harassment?
  • Safety: Are there slipping or tripping hazards, inappropriate machine guarding or equipment malfunctions or breakdowns?

What is the risk associated with the task?

On a rating scale of high, medium or low risk, rate the risks associated with the task. Here are some examples:

  • Working with heights where there is a risk of falling
  • Working in a confined space
  • Working with electrical energy
  • Working with power tools, knives or other sharp objects that may result in cuts or lacerations
  • Working with chemicals or fire that may cause burns 

Are there controls in place to eliminate or reduce hazards that may arise from the task being performed?

Here are some examples of controls you can put in place to rude the risk of hazards for the task being performed:

  • Develop a safe work procedure
  • Provide training
  • Maintain food housekeeping practices (e.g., clean floors right away to eliminate risk of trips, slips and falls)
  • Ensure Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is available

Risks and factors associated with working alone

When working alone, it is important to assess potential risks that may arise and prepare. Here are some examples of factors to consider when working alone:

  • Are you working with the public? Working with the public can increase the risk of encountering harassment, sexual harassment and violence.
  • Is present or being consumed at a location nearby? The presence of alcohol – where contact with the public is present, can escalate circumstances into hazardous situations
  • Are you carrying out inspection, enforcement or educational duties? Security guards patrolling, staff performing inspections or audits and faculty researchers working alone are at an increased risk of exposure to violence, harassment and sexual harassment
  • Are there potential environmental hazards? Environmental conditions including extreme temperatures, rain, snow or fog can create hazards even if the task being performed does not normally have risks associated with it. For example:
    • Hot weather can increase the risk of heat stroke or heat exhaustion.
    • Cold weather can increase the risk of hypothermia, frostbite or even death
    • Rain, snow and fog can increase the risk of slips, trips and falls as well as the frequency of work-related injuries as a result of decreased visibility.
  • Are you working with money? Being alone with money can bring negative attention and risks your way
    (not sure about the phrasing on this) Can we replace with, " Employees who handle money and other valuables are at risk of violence"?--GA

Factors to consider when assessing the workplace or situation

Length of time the individual will be working alone:

  • What is a reasonable amount of time for the individual to be alone?
  • Is it reasonable for the individual to be alone at all?
  • How long will it take for the individual to finish the task?
  • What time of day will the individual be working 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 to make alternate arrangements for communication when they are away from the vehicle? 

Location of the work:

  • Is the work being performed in a remote or isolated location? Remember: A remote or isolated location doesn’t have to be far away. For example, storage rooms that are rarely used can fall into either of these categories.
  • Is transportation necessary to get there? What kind of transportation is needed?
  • Is the vehicle equipped with emergency supplies such as food, drinking water and a first aid kit?
  • Will the individual need to carry some or all of the emergency supplies with them when they leave the vehicle?
  • Does the person need training in order to use the first aid equipment?
  • What are the consequences if a vehicle breaks down?
  • Will the person have to leave the vehicle for long periods of time? 

Type or nature of work:

  • Has adequate training and education been provided to the individual working alone so they may do so safely?
  • Is there adequate PPE 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 extreme temperatures?
  • Is there risk of an animal attack? (e.g., insect but, poisonous or allergic reaction, etc.)
  • If the individual is working inside a locked building, how will emergency services get in? (e.g., a night cleaner in a secure office building)
  • Does the task involve working with money or valuables?
  • Does the task involve seizing property or goods? (e.g., repossession or recovery of stolen property) 

Does the individual working alone:

  • Have any pre-existing medical conditions that may increase risk?
  • Have adequate levels of experience and training? (e.g., first aid, communication systems repair) 

Can this task be performed by two people instead?

You may want to consider prohibiting certain tasks from being performed by an individual working alone or in isolation. For example:

  • Working with biological hazards
  • Working with chemical hazards 

Limiting conditions for the task being performed

In some circumstance it may be wise to limit the conditions for performing a specific type of activity while working alone. For example, you may limit high-risk work being performed alone or in isolation to regular business hours so there will be someone else in the workplace who can check in on the individual performing the task.

Policies and procedures