The Top 4 Risks That Lone Workers Face (And How to Manage Them)
These are the four most common risks that lone workers face. What can employers do to mitigate the dangers?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics recorded over 5,000 fatal workplace injuries and 2.8 million nonfatal injuries and illnesses in 2017. Over half of these were caused by what the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has termed the “fatal four”: Falls; being struck by an object; electrocution; and being caught in or between industry related equipment. Each of these threats poses significant dangers on the job — but for lone workers, that risk is magnified.
The definition of “lone worker” covers numerous positions in manufacturing, maintenance, laboratory work, as well as employees who interact with the public, like late-night store operators. The heightened risks that lone workers face result from a lack of frequent or direct supervision.
There are no nationwide lone worker statistics available for the US. But statistics out of the U.K. offer some insight: lone workers make up as much as 20% of the workforce, a disturbing number of which face a heightened risk of injury. Here, we’ll look at some of those risks.
Top 4 Risks for Lone Workers
1. Workplace Violence
Lone workers who are public-facing or working in remote areas are particularly vulnerable to workplace violence. In the UK, the Office for National Statistics found that as many as 150 lone workers experience violence every day. It’s a particular problem in their National Health Services, where lone workers make up 9% of the workforce and 6% report having experienced violence on the job.
According to BLS, falls, slips, and trips killed 887 workers in 2017. This risk is, naturally, much greater for lone workers. If a worker is incapacitated in the fall, they may not be able to call for help — even if they’re carrying a communication device. An accident can go unnoticed for hours or even days if regular check-ins are not arranged.
3. Hit by Moving Objects
“Contact with objects or equipment” killed 695 workers in 2017. This includes being struck by falling objects, caught in equipment, and caught between collapsing structures. As with other hazards for lone workers, victims of these types of accidents may not be noticed and may not be able to call for help if their movement is restrained or they are immediately incapacitated.
4. Sudden Cardiac Arrest
According to the Department of Labor, 10,000 sudden cardiac episodes a year occur at the workplace. For lone workers, this is literally a matter of life and death. In fact, many lone workers face increased risk due to working with electricity or operating in confined, hazardous spaces.
How to Protect Lone Workers
Supervisors should confirm the wellbeing of lone workers during intervals appropriate to the task being performed. A short lone shift nearby may need only one check-in, while longer periods will require regular contact. Naturally, this means lone workers will need to be equipped with extremely reliable communications devices. Cell phones won’t serve their function here, especially given that so many lone workers operate in areas that may not receive adequate coverage.
In the UK, many organizations with lone workers are required to perform a risk assessment to prove that lone workers will not face greater hazards than non-lone workers. Questions to ask include:
- In the event of an emergency, how quickly could help reach the worker?
- Would the worker be safer if they weren’t alone?
- Can the worker lift all necessary loads alone?
- Can the worker operate emergency structures like ladders and scaffolds alone?
- Does the worker have any conditions that would put them at greater risk?
Lone Worker Alert Systems
Many technologies have been developed to protect lone workers. The ubiquity of smart devices makes apps seem like a good idea, but these have many drawbacks. Smartphones are limited by Wifi and cellular reception, while many lone workers operate in remote or confined spaces (to say nothing of workers running down their batteries on normal functions.) Furthermore, victims of accidents might be immediately incapacitated and unable to access their devices. The best insurance when it comes to lone worker safety is dedicated devices running on a dedicated network, and “man down” protocols that can alert supervisors of potential problems on their own — without an alert from the worker.
At Turn-key Technologies (TTI), our TTI Guardian system has the flexibility and reliability your lone workers need to work safely, even in isolated environments like laboratories, healthcare facilities, and petrochemical facilities. TTI Guardian is a wireless communications solution for multiple industries and applications. It's a simple and cost-effective solution that includes multiple alarm options for lone workers and can be tailored to your specific needs. Guardian assures assistance is ever-at-the-ready with the push of a button or with “man down” activation. With nearly three decades of experience in workplace security and protection, our team has the experience, resources, and technology offering that employers need to keep their lone workers safe.