How well do your lone workers know first aid?

Maybe you know deep down that things could be better but you don’t know where to start.

If that feels like you, then you're in the right place. Now is the time to take a long hard look at your lone worker safety and health procedures.

There are approximately 53 million lone workers in the United States, Canada, and Europe. Working alone can mean taking on the night shift at a company’s home base, traveling long distance, or working in a remote station. The state of being along on the job can make a job more dangerous.

Special Challenges for Lone Worker Safety

Making sure employees who work alone stay safe is a unique challenge for safety professionals. With no one around watching their backs, it’s important to make sure lone workers are well trained in first aid, have everything they need in their first aid kits, and really understand how they should react in the event of an accident (see First Aid Basics for 10 Common Workplace Injuries for a primer).

  • Lone workers face the same hazards as any other employee but they do so without co-workers or supervisors monitoring them as closely. It’s easy to take for granted the co-worker beside you until they aren’t there at all. Without co-workers on site or nearby, lone workers are basically working without a safety net.
  • Working alone doesn’t necessarily mean entirely on your own. Other people can cause accidents and injuries to lone workers—intentionally or unintentionally. Lone workers doing a job near a roadway, for example, are at risk if any distracted drivers are on the road.
  • Lone workers are also at risk if they don't have the right training, including not being able to handle their equipment properly or how to do certain tasks without help from others. A basic or orientation-style training is not usually enough preparation for working in the field alone. Additional training and refresher training are more important for lone workers than for employees surrounded by colleagues. The lone worker must be better prepared because they are the only responder if there is an emergency.
  • Inadequate check-in protocols can mean your employee doesn’t receive treatment in a timely manner because nobody knew there was a problem.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has very few regulations regarding lone workers. In Regulation 1915.84, OSHA does require that employers ensure the health and safety of employees and that employers “shall account for each employee by sight or verbal communication.” In other words, they do advise companies to maintain regular contact and develop specific action plans for lone worker safety but there are no specific guidelines to follow.

Establishing contact procedures and emergency contact protocols is a good start to lone worker safety, but what happens if there's an accident on site?

Is the lone worker supposed to follow emergency contact protocol and then wait until help arrives?

Of course not!

They might need to start treating themselves until emergency medical responders get on the scene, which is why they need to have a fully stocked first aid kit.

Functional First Aid Kits

OSHA has regulations regarding first aid kits as a part of health and safety measures. First aid kits are expected to accommodate the number of employees working on site and they should be re-stocked regularly. OSHA’s regulation 1910.266 Appendix A lists the minimum requirements for first aid kits:

  • Gauze pads – at least 4” by 4”, with two at least 8” by 10”
  • Adhesive bandages – one box
  • Gauze roller bandage – one package
  • Triangular bandages – two
  • Wound cleaning agent (sealed, moistened towelettes are noted specifically)
  • Scissors
  • Blanket – at least one
  • Tweezers
  • Adhesive tape
  • Latex gloves
  • Resuscitation equipment
  • Elastic wraps – two
  • Splint – one
  • Directions for requesting assistance in case of an emergency.

What’s missing from this list? Well, a lot. This basic kit doesn’t include preventative measures (like sunscreen and bug spray) or common reactionary items (painkillers and cold packs). This OSHA regulation really leaves a lot to be desired, especially for employees at risk of more than paper cuts and splinters.

But there’s another problem with this regulation. Appendix A very clearly states that a kit like this would be sufficient for small worksites with two to three employees. It doesn't address the safety needs of lone workers. In fact, there are no further provisions for lone worker safety. This leaves a large gray area concerning first aid kits for those who work alone.

If you were working alone, say on a remote field site, would you be comfortable with this very basic kit as your only back up?

The Ultimate Lone Worker’s First Aid Kit

The items listed in OSHA’s regulation are practical and easy to obtain. Without further clarification, companies have to decide for themselves whether the minimum is enough for their employees, given the kind of work they do.

Functional first aid kits for lone workers are entirely different than those that are suited for multi-employee sites. These kits need be more comprehensive to provide your lone worker proper protection. A functional lone worker first aid kit should include all items from the basic kit plus:

  • Adhesive bandages and wraps – various sizes with adhesive tape
  • Gauze – used to pack wounds to help control bleeding
  • Sunscreen – if the individual is working outside in the sun for long periods of time, sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or more should be applied every two hours.
  • Painkillers
  • Allergy medicine
  • Burn spray or salve – for lesser degree burns
  • Antiseptic spray, wipes, or ointment
  • Cold compresses or ice packs
  • Eyewash
  • Animal bite relief
  • Thermal blanket
  • Plastic Biohazard bags – to store items that are consider biohazards (blood, chemicals) and contaminated items.

Depending on where your worker will be working and what kind of job they will be doing, you might not need to include everything on this list. But, generally, the more complete the kit the better. It’s always better to have items in a kit that never get used than to have an employee desperately need something and not have access to it.

Portability is another concern when you put together a lone worker first aid kit. The kit should fit in one box or case that is clearly marked as first aid and easily accessible wherever the employee is working. Like all first aid kits, make sure to replace items as they are used or expire.

Warning devices and alarms can provide more safety for lone workers. Technology has advanced to the point that certain devices can alert supervisors if a safety risk is detected (like a hazardous substance). Other options include wearable devices that can trigger alerts if somebody is in distress. The devices also include GPS technology and emergency alerts to help emergency responders get to the worker on time.

Wrapping It Up

Health and safety has become a frontline concern for companies who want to ensure employee welfare and the company bottom line (learn more in Connecting the Dots: Safety and Profitability). First aid, as a result, has become a crucial part of policy. Also, think of the message you send to your employees by giving them fully functional first aid kits. Employees are more likely to stay at companies where they feel valued and cared for.

It is a different world when you’re working alone and it comes with a lot of addition hazards and dangers. Knowing that lone workers will have to self-administer any necessary treatment, are you prepared settle for the bare minimum in first aid?