With an unprecedented number of employees now working alone or remotely, it is the employers’ responsibility to put a program in place to protect these people who are more vulnerable because of their new employment conditions. This applies to those in the excavation industry who face a multitude of safety hazards including:
• Flooding or deep pits of water.
• Falls into trenches and pits/holes.
• Slips, trips, and falls off equipment and structures.
• Trench cave-ins or equipment and structure collapses.
• Exposure to toxic gases and chemicals (natural gas and sewage lines) as well as suff ocation from lack of oxygen.
• Electrocution from buried and overhead electrical lines.
• Impact from falling or flying objects/ materials as well as mobile machinery.
There are a number of systems and practices that can be put in place to protect the lone workers including shoring, sloping, and temporary protective structures such as trench boxes. But it you want to be truly proactive and put measures in place to prevent accidents before they occur, you need to develop a lone worker safety program. Does it sound daunting and expensive? The good news is that it can be neither with some thorough planning, research, and training.
Assess your risks and hazards
The first step to developing any effective lone worker safety program is to conduct an exhaustive hazard assessment of any safety risks and hazards threatening your workers’ wellbeing. Once you know what the threats are, you can then look at ways of reducing them. Safety hazards and risks are always changing from location to location and from job to job, therefore you need to regularly conduct risk assessments to adapt and therefore maintain a safe work environment.
Implement a check-in system
Once you have identified the safety risks, you need to then explore ways of mitigating them as effectively as possible. A powerful tool to have is a check-in system in which the lone worker is required to check in with their organization at predetermined times, confirming and communicating that they are safe. This highly effective system can be manual (effective, but requires more staff time, prone to human error) or can be automated (much more effective and requires minimal staff time, significantly less human error).
Develop safety policies and strategies
Once you identified the potential safety hazards and developed a check-in system, you then need to create company policies and plans that will reduce the noted risks – these make up the skeleton of your program. While it can be a mundane, somewhat boring task, these policies and programs are a record clearly demonstrating what the employer intends to do about eliminating or at least reducing the safety hazard and increasing the workers’ health and well-being. When developing these plans, make sure you consult with all members of the team who are impacted by these risks and hazards – they can provide invaluable feedback and insight, helping the most effective safety policies and strategies.
Engaging education and training
A lone worker safety program is futile if the workers it is benefiting are unaware of it and its policies. That is why once the policies are finalized, workers must be educated, trained and updated regularly about how these policies impact their work. They must understand the rationale of the policies and how they benefit themselves, their team, and the organization. When teaching the team about your safety policies, try to make it as engaging as possible. In addition to official training sessions, you can also educate your team through online workshops or lunch-and-learns, social-distance workshops, creative online courses, casual quizzes, and contests – or all the above.
Even after all of the correspondence when developing your lone worker policies and program, you need to regularly communicate with the team, exploring new safety strategies, modifying existing safety polices or just simply talking about how they’re doing. Regular, engaging communication is a major component of a transparent and positive work safety culture where injuries and accidents are less likely to occur. With lone and remote workers, there is also flexibility when it comes to communication. Forbes recommends focusing on the process, not the person, so you “can work together in problem solving mode to pool and confirm best ideas.” Because these people are alone, there must be greater effort to maintain constant communication to confirm their safety, like the check-in system mentioned earlier.
Provide communication options
To accommodate this regular communication, you need have channels in place for that connection to occur. This may sound like an obvious point, but your program must identify which channels will be used for which issues. The reason why this must be noted is because every manager and every organization communicate with their team differently. For example, my organization requests that any safety concerns be sent to an official email address, but any other work-related concerns are communicated to my manager in an online document – it varies from workplace to workplace. Clearly outlining this early helps facilitate your safety program and policies while encouraging staff to communicate more frequently and comfortably.
As part of your communications and a major pillar of a solid lone worker safety program, every organization must have a lone worker emergency communications plan as well. While these plans do not require the amount of planning and documentation needed to develop your policies, they are nonetheless just as important for your safety program. The plan should document any possible communications issues in the case of an emergency with a lone worker, how to eliminate those issues, as well as the team members who need to be contacted in an emergency and the best channels to reach them through. In an emergency with someone working alone, every second counts so this plan could potentially save a life.
Especially when lone employers are working off the beaten path without any cellular service, communication and the technology for that communication is a part of your program. There are a number of options available including the ubiquitous smart phone or satellite devices. There are also a growing number of lone worker protection apps that can be used on existing devices like smartphones, eliminating the extra costs of purchasing new, expensive devices. These apps allow lone workers to check in and sometimes have location tracking and fall detection.
As said earlier, developing a lone worker safety program may seem like a lot of work but it is absolutely worth it. Instead of being reactive when an emergency takes place, you are proactively implementing policies and measure that can prevent the incident from taking place at all, potentially saving the life of a valued team member. While there are a number of moving parts, a solid lone worker safety program is most effective when you have established a positive safety culture where everyone is comfortable, committed to a safe work environment and on board.