Performing a risk assessment is an important part of keeping your workers safe. If you don't know what kind of hazards your workers encounter, you can't take steps to protect them from those hazards.

But what about lone workers? How do you conduct a risk assessment for someone who will not be working at your facility? What about those who won’t be within earshot of a coworker or supervisor?

This article goes over risk assessments and how to perform them. You will also learn what added steps to take when you're assessing risks for an employee working alone.

What Is a Risk Assessment?

A risk assessment is an examination of the work area. It evaluates the tasks performed and the equipment used to perform them. The goal is to identify hazards. This will make the dangers of the worksite predictable and manageable.

The types of hazards identified will vary across industries. They also depend on the job site. It's important, then, to conduct a new risk assessment when your workers start work in a new location. This is true even if they're doing the same job and using the same equipment.

One Example: Chemical Hazards Risk Assessment

OSHA's Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) works to ensure the awareness of chemical hazards and associated protective measures.

OSHA requires not only employers and employees, but also chemical manufacturers and importers to perform risk assessments relating to their products. Once these are completed, the hazards are listed on the label. They are also listed on material safety data sheets (MSDSs) shipped with the product.

This information protects every employee who might come into contact with the hazardous chemicals. It allows them to take the right precautions when handling them or working near them.

Assessing the chemical risks allows you to anticipate hazards. Then, you can implement control methods to prevent illness and injury.

These forms of hazard communication are doubly important for employees who work in isolation. The Hazard Communication Standard gives you the information you need. It helps you equip employees who cannot work under your direct supervision with the proper gear.

What Hazards Should You Include?

An adequate assessment will at least take the following into account:
  • The work area
  • The jobs performed in that area
  • The number of employees in that area
  • A list of all known industry risks and hazards
  • The likelihood of harm
  • The possible severity of the harm
  • Observation and documentation of risk levels and their acceptability
  • Plans to limit or cut the potential hazards

For workers who are under zero or very little supervision, it's important to consider that they might have added PPE or first aid needs (see Lone Worker First Aid Must Haves for more). No one can reach them quickly if there is an emergency. That's why isolated workers depend on monitoring and communication devices. This equipment notifies others if they encounter a problem with the environment or sustain an injury.

Consider the case of a municipal utility worker who has to do some repairs inside an underground tunnel. That job will take them underground and out of sight. What risks should you consider before sending them off?

First, there could be dangers with any chemical products they might need to use to restore the site. Those products might be safe to use under normal conditions. But they might be a bigger risk when there is no proper ventilation. There might also be toxic materials in the water, dirt, or air inside the tunnel.

You will also have to consider whether the worker will encounter any power systems. This includes electrical lines and wireless devices. You should think about whether the tools they'll be using might pose risks of their own too. A spark of static electricity could also result in fire or an explosion.

The temperatures that the worker will face in the tunnel is also important. You should warn them if they're about to encounter any extreme heat or cold. It's also important to factor that into your other decisions. If the tunnel gets hot, will your worker risk overheating if you load them up with too much gear?

Your risk assessment should not simply consider how you will prepare your employee. It also needs to specify how you will respond in case of an emergency. If the worker slips and falls, is exposed to harmful gas, or is electrocuted, what will you do? You won't have time to come up with a plan after an emergency, so you need to make sure there's one in place before it happens.

Equipping Your Worker to Deal with Identified Hazards

Based on the results of your risk assessment, you'll be able to equip your employee with everything they need to stay safe.

Will your worker be repairing power lines from a cherry picker? They'll need a safety harness and lanyard in case they lose their balance and fall out of the bucket. Are they working in a sewer or some other environment with a potentially toxic atmosphere? You’ll know to give them a respirator that will supply them with enough breathable air to do the job and safely exit the confined space.

In almost every case, you'll want to equip your lone worker with communication and monitoring devices. Smartphones, tablets, and radios can streamline communication. They will help you keep in touch with your workers even when they're out of sight. Wearable devices can notify you if the worker has fallen and become unconscious. They can also detect a dangerous gas. These alerts will allow you to take immediate action and respond to the incident before it’s too late.

Follow Up and Maintain Safety Policy

Risk assessments are great tools to protect workers. Your employees may not always work around the facility. This doesn’t mean you can’t continue to keep them connected and safe.