Many employees work alone or in isolation, whether from time to time or as a regular part of their work. In addition to an employer’s general statutory obligation to ensure a safe work environment under the Workers’ Compensation Act, employers have additional specific obligations to protect employees who work alone or in isolation under the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation (the “Regulation”).
Under the Regulations, “working alone or in isolation” means to work in circumstances where assistance would not be readily available to the employee, either in the case of an emergency, or if the employee is injured or ill. Employers must take the following steps to ensure the safety of employees who work alone or in isolation:
- Assess and identify the risks and hazards which employees may face when they are working alone or in isolation, and inform employees about them.
- Take steps to eliminate or minimize the risks and hazards.
- In consultation with the employees who are assigned to work alone or in isolation, develop and implement a written procedure for checking on the well-being of employees working alone or in isolation (the “check-in procedure”). The check-in procedure must include:
- a designated person who will contact the employee who is working alone and record the results;
- time intervals between checks which depend on the level of risk;
- a check-in at the end of each shift; and
- a procedure to follow in case the employee who is working alone cannot be reached.
- Train the employees involved on the check-in procedure.
- Review the procedures at least annually, or more frequently whenever there is a change in the working arrangements or the check-in procedure is ineffective for any reason.
In addition, employers which operate a gas station, convenience or retail store between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. must take additional steps to protect employees who work alone or in isolation. If there is any risk of violence to an employee working during such hours, then, in addition to the required assessment, check-in procedure, and training described above, the employer must develop and implement a written procedure to ensure the worker’s safety when they are handling money and must do one or more of the following:
- Ensure that the worker is physically separated by a locked door or barrier that prevents physical contact with or access to the worker;
- Assign more than one worker during that shift; and/or
- Implement a violence prevention program, including a time lock safe that cannot be opened during the hours of 11:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m., storage of cash and lottery tickets not reasonably required during the shift in the safe, good visibility into the store, limited access to the workplace, video surveillance, signs visible to the public notifying them of the above, and a personal emergency transmitter for the employee which is monitored by the employer or a security company.
All employers, as part of their OH&S program, should regularly review the circumstances in which their employees may be working alone or in isolation, and ensure that they have policies and procedures in place to comply with the Regulation and to minimize any health and safety risks to employees.