Lone Worker Employer Responsibilities

Lone Worker Employer Responsibilities

Maintaining lone worker safety is an important employer responsibility. To properly protect lone workers, organizational leadership must consider Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations, lone worker best practices, and employee expectations. Here, we outline several key considerations for organizations with lone workers in the United States and offer a free guide, Lone Worker Safety: Risks, Considerations & Solutions.

OSHA Regulations

There are two key OSHA standards that must be considered when developing lone worker policies and procedures:

    • 1915.84(a) Except as provided in § 1915.51(c)(3) of this part, whenever an employee is working alone, such as in a confined space or isolated location, the employer shall account for each employee:
    • 1915.84(a)(1) Throughout each workshift at regular intervals appropriate to the job assignment to ensure the employee's safety and health; and
    • 1915.84(a)(2) At the end of the job assignment or at the end of the workshift, whichever occurs first.
    • 1915.84(b) The employer shall account for each employee by sight or verbal communication.

According to this standard, employers must ensure that lone employees are regularly accounted for by sight or verbal communication. This includes checking in at regular intervals and at the end of a lone worker’s shift to confirm their health and safety. In addition to these check-ins, the risk of worker injury can also be avoided by deploying a mobile platform that enables employees to quickly and reliably access organizational policies and request help if needed.

  • OSHA Section 5(a)(1): General Duty Clause 
    • (a) Each employer -- 
      • (1) shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees;
      • (2) shall comply with occupational safety and health standards promulgated under this Act.
    • (b) Each employee shall comply with occupational safety and health standards and all rules, regulations, and orders issued pursuant to this Act which are applicable to his own actions and conduct.

The General Duty Clause requires employers to make a reasonable effort to ensure that all employees, including those working alone, do not encounter workplace hazards. For lone workers operating in locations with unforeseen hazards, such as in the field or at customer homes, employers can abide by this clause by regularly checking in with employees, developing intuitive employee reporting and communication processes, and updating risk assessments and lone worker policies to recognize new and evolving hazards.

In addition to these standards, there may be industry-specific regulations to keep in mind, such as 29 CFR 1910.134 for firefighter respiratory protection, 29 CFR 1910.146 for confined space work that requires permits, and 29 CFR 1910.120 for Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HazWOPER) considerations.

Duty of Care

The duty of care is a moral and legal principle describing an employer’s obligation to promote employee health and safety and to protect its workforce from undue risk. This includes identifying and mitigating hazards and establishing measures to safeguard employees, regardless of the worksite. To develop a duty of care program, employers must consider the nature of their work environments, employee responsibilities and tasks, and the necessary materials and equipment required to successfully complete the job. 

Depending on the organization and industry, duty of care may include providing certain workplace materials, establishing a reporting process, and soliciting ongoing employee feedback. Employees should also be made aware that they are expected to act prudently and comply with local, state, and organizational guidance and policies.

Duty of care programs may entail the following:

  • Creating a safe work environment
  • Understanding and training employees about hazardous materials, heavy machinery, and other potentially dangerous workplace considerations
  • Providing accommodations during severe weather or other disruptive events
  • Checking in with employees who are traveling for business purposes
  • Developing resources for mental health concerns

Currently, most successful organizations have a duty of care program to protect their workforce and to safeguard their business in the event of a lawsuit or worker’s compensation claim. These programs focus on understanding foreseeable risks and incidents and developing corresponding employee training and prevention and response strategies. There is no set standard for duty of care programs, so each employer should develop it to suit their organization’s industry, size, location, common risks, and more.

Additional Considerations

In addition to OSHA regulations, organizations must abide by relevant state and local guidance and consider industry- and organization-specific risks. This can help avoid lone worker injury, illness, and fatality, as well as subsequent lawsuits and/or OSHA accident investigations. 

Maintaining lone worker health and safety should include:

  • Conducting regular, comprehensive lone worker risk assessments
  • Working to eliminate any identified hazards
  • Training lone workers on safety best practices and organizational solutions
  • Developing a written health and safety policy
  • Regularly updating lone worker policies based on input from lone workers and findings from risk assessments (particularly important when you have new employees, equipment, worksites, or other working environment changes)

Employees should also be made aware of all lone worker expectations, policies, and response strategies so they are prepared to exercise best practices while working alone, regardless of the worksite. This may include providing training videos, relevant policies and procedures, and an easy means of communicating questions and concerns.

To learn more about lone worker considerations, including employer responsibilities, effective policies and risk assessments, and more, download our free guide, Lone Worker Safety: Risks, Considerations & Solutions.

ALEXANDRA BRUNJES

Alexandra Brunjes has a B.S. in Neurobiology from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. with minors in Creative Writing and French. She is a published journalist and experienced health and science writer. Her expertise includes risk intelligence, healthcare and neuroscience, and technology.

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