Working alone safely
No jurisdiction in Canada prohibits employers from allowing workers to work alone. But five provinces -- Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick and Saskatchewan -- regulate working alone. Legislation requires employers to conduct a hazard assessment and then to develop controls to reduce the risks associated with the identified hazards.
A worker is considered to be working alone if he or she is at a work site where assistance is not readily available when needed. An injury or emergency resulting from violence from the public is a top concern. Employers must ensure assistance is available if any injury, illness or emergency occurs.
Conducting a hazard assessment
Alberta Employment, Immigration and Industry provides an explanation of the "working alone" requirements in its Occupational Health and Safety Code 2006. Conducting a hazard assessment includes an inspection of the workplace and a review of any records of past incidents. Where possible, the employees who will be working alone should take part in the inspection.
The employer must also provide a method for the employee to communicate with the outside world. This could include a radio, telephone or other electronic communications device. If that is not practical, a method to check-in with the employer or another worker is recommended.
In Ontario, there is no definition of working alone. "All workers must be provided protection reasonable in the circumstances to protect their health and safety," says Belinda Sutton, an Ontario Ministry of Labour spokesperson. Under Ontario's Occupational Health and Safety Act, "an employer has a general duty to take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of a worker," she adds.
Reasonable precautions may include assessing the risk of violence to a worker and developing, implementing and maintaining a policy, program and procedures to protect the worker. "The specific measures and procedures that are included in the program will vary with each type of workplace," Sutton says.