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Lone worker safety

Planning, communication and stop-work authority are key

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Snakes and gators and bears … oh my!

Lone workers who venture into remote places are often outnumbered by wildlife. Stieler said NATE member company workers have encountered a wide variety of creatures.

“Wildlife is a concern at a remote site,” she said. “You can have issues with snakes or bears or wasps or whatever. There are a lot of remote tower sites. Those are never fun to go to by yourself.”

One NATE member’s crew recently noticed a wild boar keeping tabs on them from nearby. Another group of workers in Florida was working on an anchor hole at a cell tower site when it had a scary encounter. “They crawled out of the anchor hole and they were eating lunch when an alligator crawled out of the hole 15 minutes after they did,” Stieler said. “That’s why we’re pretty cognizant about not going by yourself.”

And wherever animals live, hunters can follow. Keeping lone workers safe often involves being aware of local hunting seasons.

“We don’t want to be sending people off to properties doing survey work near where there might be active hunting,” Nickel said. “We may have to push ‘pause’ on the work for a couple of weeks.”

There has to be a plan in place to let people work alone.

Kathy Stieler
Director of safety, health and compliance
NATE: The Communications Infrastructure Contractors Association

COVID-19’s impact

The COVID-19 pandemic halted work in a variety of industries, but many lone workers continued to do their jobs.

“The biggest impact was getting food and hotels when they were traveling,” Stieler said. Because of the nature of not being around others, lone workers had a decreased exposure to the virus, except when in need of lodging.

“We have always encouraged our employees in these circumstances to let us know if they have personal concerns with the work or travel with respect to COVID-19,” Nickel said, “and we will respect their use of stop work so we don’t put them at risk for exposure to the virus.”

Responsibilities for lone workers

Although maintaining communication is perhaps the most important responsibility for a lone worker, knowing when to stop work and responding to changes in the job or environment are important as well, regardless of the industry.

“If they’re a lone worker,” Nickel said, “we’re going to have the same safety requirements across the board, whether they’re in an office location, at a facility that might be abandoned where we’re doing a check on things or if they’re going to be out doing field surveys.”

On a jobsite, unforeseen hazards can arise. In that case, stopping work and communicating with a project team or supervisor is recommended, Nickel said. As a first step when facing an emerging hazard, workers should find and go to a safe place, such as a vehicle or building onsite. It could mean stopping work for the day.

“Maybe it’s stop work, go back to the office location, and get additional tools or support,” Nickel said, “and maybe finding somebody else to be out there with that worker.

“We definitely want to make sure people are aware of their surroundings and what’s going on, and not getting themselves involved in any work that’s going to put them in harm’s way. Wait to put a safe plan together to complete the work.”

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