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Never totally alone

Written by : ADP Canada
2007-01-15
Employees in a number of sectors, such as fast food outlets, gas stations, and convenience stores, frequently find themselves working alone on the premises. It is important to give serious thought to the risks inherent in this situation and to ensure the safety of such employees.

Take the example of janitorial work, which is usually done after the last work shift, i.e. at night. At this time, most personnel have left the work premises, leaving only maintenance staff on site. Normally, the maintenance staff consists of two people. However, what happens when one of the workers is absent for some reason or another? If the worker on duty were to suffer an injury or lose consciousness, who could assist him or her, who would even know that anything was wrong?

According to section 322 of the Regulations respecting Occupational Health and Safety:
322. When a worker performs a task alone in an isolated environment where it is impossible for him to request assistance, an efficient means of surveillance, whether continuous or intermittent, shall be installed.

An empty business where no one is likely to enter before opening hours constitutes an isolated location. If a worker is alone because a co-worker is absent or for any other reason, the employer is responsible for setting up some form of watch (surveillance).

What does this "watch" consist of? There are several possible options. In the above-mentioned section of the Regulations, it says that the watch may be intermittent or continuous. A continuous watch could consist of a sophisticated video camera system connected to a central alarm station or to a company specialized in surveillance. However, the dangers specific to maintenance work in certain businesses (fast food) do not justify this type of system. What would be more appropriate in this context would be some form of intermittent watch. Regular telephone calls (made according to an established procedure) by a central alarm station with which the business has a contract could be a viable solution.

When the business has several outlets, they could be linked together through a communication system that would allow them to stay in regular contact with each other for the duration of the maintenance work. In this case, if no one answers at a given location, based on a pre-established procedure, someone would be contacted to go directly to the premises to see what is going on. Another option might be to use the services of an agency that does security rounds in the district.

In all other situations, the worker must have the means needed to communicate with someone off the premises at all times. This means that he or she must have handy, just as when he or she is not working alone, the list of phone numbers to call in case of an emergency. Another possibility might be to have a panic button installed that would be hooked up to a central alarm station.

Obviously, work reorganization would be preferable to this procedure. Inasmuch as possible, it is best to avoid putting workers in the situation of having to work alone. However, when that is impossible, certain measures must be taken.

With more than 50,000 clients across Canada, ADP Canada (ADP) is the country's largest provider of employer-related services. Among ADP Canada's traditional outsourcing products and services and those offered via the internet, the company offers payroll, human resources management, time and labour management, as well as occupational health and safety, and comprehensive outsourcing and consulting services. ADP Canada pays one in five Canadians.

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