Solutions for communicating workplace danger when you’re alone

A strong line of communication between employer and lone workers is important for their safety on the plant or factory floor

By RTS July 20, 2022
Courtesy: Cincinnati Incorporated/Steve Rourke, CFE Media and Technology

Safety Insights

  • Employees that work alone are more susceptible to injury because of they cannot get help quickly. This is even more important in manufacturing, which has a higher rate of workplace injuries and fatalities than other industries.
  • It is crucial for a company to put together a communication plan in place to ensure that the lone workers are able to communicate swiftly with the supervisor or lead.
  • Along with establishing a strong communication plan, it is important for the workers to report any near-miss incidents to keep the factory and plant floor as safe as possible.

In 2020, private industry employers in the U.S. reported 2.7 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses — a rate of 2.7 cases per 100 full time workers. When it comes to manufacturing, the figures for workplace danger are higher, with the industry seeing an injury and illness rate of 6.6 cases per 100 full-time workers.

Many employers are working to minimize the dangers their employees face. However, it’s not always possible to eliminate risk altogether. In these cases, it’s important employees get help when needed.

Working alone compounds the risks faced in manufacturing. It can be harder to summon help if there’s an incident or danger. Minimizing these risks and ensuring employees can get help even when they’re on their own is essential to making a workplace safe.

Dangers of working alone

Most manufacturing plants contain large, powerful machines and other unavoidable hazards. As a result, employees in the sector are more likely to get injured on the job. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, manufacturing jobs accounted for 15% percent of all private industry nonfatal injuries and illnesses in 2019.

Slips, trips and falls are responsible for a lot of workplace accidents. Although many of the resulting injuries are minor, some can be incapacitating. This is a serious issue in manufacturing as many plants and factories are large, with employees often working alone in isolated locations.

On top of accidents and illnesses, some employees face violence in the workplace. According to the CDC, 21,000 workers experience trauma from non-fatal workplace violence in 2019. Of these, 68% were women and 21% took more than a month off work to recover.

The large, noisy nature of plants means that assaults and threatening behavior can go unnoticed. employees may struggle to call for help if they feel they’re in danger.

Agree on a communication plan

Workers in plants and factories shouldn’t be on their own for long periods. When it is necessary for them to work alone, managers should be made aware and told when the employee is likely to be back. This helps employers keep track of the people on the plant floor.

When employees are required to work alone for extended periods, managers should regularly check on them. The manager and employee should agree on a communication plan of scheduled checks beforehand.

If it’s not possible to physically check on a lone worker, employers should ask all employees working in isolated areas to radio or call periodically. If a call is late, managers can check on the worker. Regular two-way communication not only allows help to be summoned in case of an incident, but it also gives employees the chance to tell managers about near misses or other hazards that may be of concern.

Panic button systems

As well as being big, plants and factories are often noisy. This can make it difficult for employees to call for help when something goes wrong. A good way for employers to protect workers is to equip all employees with a Bluetooth emergency button.

When a worker triggers the Bluetooth panic button, their location is sent straight to security or the manager’s office. Panic buttons work around the noise and size of a plant and are one of the fastest and most efficient ways of calling for help.

Being able to pinpoint a person’s exact location allows first aiders, security or colleagues to quickly reach an incapacitated worker. Many injuries are time sensitive and a quick response time can make a huge difference in the potential outcome.

Panic button systems also can act as a deterrent for those who might otherwise threaten or assault their colleagues. Knowing a system is in place is often enough to stop threatening behavior and keep workers in a plant or factory safe.

Reporting near misses

If a lone worker experiences a “near miss,” it’s important they report it to their manager. Telling employers about slips, falls, trips and other incidents that almost resulted in injury allows them to identify potential hazards and take action to address them before an accident does happen.

Employers need to ensure all near misses are investigated. Looking into these incidents can allow managers to prevent future accidents and protect workers.

Good communication is key to a safe and secure workplace. Whether communication is achieved through regular phone calls, welfare checks or emergency buttons, having a system in place is essential to keeping lone workers safe and secure when they’re on the job.

DEP is a CFE Media and Technology content partner.