Persistent gaps in lone worker safety

How to find the right solutions for various work environments

Persistent gaps in lone worker safety

In today's diverse work environments, lone workers face unique safety challenges that require tailored solutions. According to estimates by the National Safety Council (NSC), about 15-20% of employees in the U.S. work alone, a figure likely mirrored in Canada. These workers often report feeling unsafe and struggle to receive timely assistance after an incident. As Zain Idris, an EHS analyst at Verdantix, explains, “one big thing that's dominating the EHS market at the moment is safety and ensuring that workers remain safe regardless of where they are.”

Identifying the gaps

Despite advancements in workplace safety, significant gaps remain for lone workers. “One of the main gaps compared to people that are working on-site is that you have other people present. That's massive; you can never really replicate that for lone workers,” Idris notes. This lack of immediate oversight can leave lone workers vulnerable to risks that might be quickly addressed in a more populated setting.

Idris highlights another critical issue: “Often, it can be quite difficult to take into consideration all the risks that are operating in the new location lone workers are not necessarily subject to the same place they're working in; they could be moving around and often be in quite harsh environments.” The variability in work environments for lone workers means that comprehensive risk assessments are harder to implement and maintain, further exacerbating safety concerns.

Technological solutions and challenges

To bridge these gaps, technology plays a crucial role. Idris points to several innovations that can enhance the safety of lone workers. “The solutions range from wearable devices that can monitor a worker's vital signs, like body temperature and heart rate, to SOS alarms equipped with GPS location tracking,” he says. These devices can alert workers to potential health issues before they become critical and provide a direct line of communication in emergencies.

Health and safety professionals can also deploy EHS technologies such as health trackers and fatigue-monitoring headsets. For industrial workers, gas detectors and smart earplugs are invaluable, while remote workers benefit from accessible health services. These technologies offer a proactive approach to monitoring and managing lone worker safety, providing real-time data and immediate alerts that can save lives.

One persistent challenge for lone workers is connectivity, especially in remote areas. “If lone workers are in environments where you can't really connect to mobile data or Wi-Fi, it makes it difficult to connect with alarm receiving centers or employers if an issue takes place,” Idris acknowledges. While some safety devices do not require connectivity, those that rely on real-time communication do. Employers must explore all available options, such as satellite communication devices, to ensure that lone workers can always reach out for help when needed

Best practices for employers

Implementing these technologies is just one part of the solution. Employers must also adopt best practices that address both the physical and mental health of lone workers. “When we consider workers, it's more the physical environment that is considered as risks... But in terms of one's own physical state and one's mental state, I think that's definitely something that is sort of overlooked,” Idris emphasizes. Mental health support is vital, especially as the isolation inherent in lone work can exacerbate stress and anxiety.

Regular training and clear communication channels are essential. Employers should ensure that lone workers are well-versed in using safety devices and know how to respond in various emergency scenarios. Conducting thorough and regular risk assessments, tailored to the specific conditions of lone workers, can also mitigate risks.

Moreover, investing in safety programs can yield significant returns. Verdantix highlights that for every dollar invested in a safety program, there is a four-dollar return in reduced injury costs. This economic incentive, coupled with the moral imperative to protect employees, makes a strong case for comprehensive safety strategies.