Safety Concerns for Remote Employees

Howard Mavity, Fisher and Phillips LLP
Tags: workplace safety

Many employees work alone at a customer's site or on the road with no immediate supervision or the presence of a safety professional to check for hazards. Some workers, such as journeymen electricians and certified crane operators, are trained to operate with minimal supervision. Other workers may be less trained or less equipped to individually analyze their setting. Unfortunately, both types of isolated workers may violate OSHA standards, and preventing that misconduct is more of a problem when employees are working alone.

Employers have a duty to ensure their employees' safety even when the employer has no supervision or safety professionals onsite. In almost all situations, the employer cannot delegate this responsibility to others for even the most skilled workers. A balance must be struck.

Many employers fail to establish programs to effectively supervise these often highly skilled employees, although some have a solid system in which employees confer throughout the day with supervisors, dispatchers and technicians. Even if the employer has trained employees to exercise greater responsibility when working alone, are these procedures documented?

In addition to the practical need to ensure employee safety, OSHA may cite employers for inadequate safety measures when remote employees are hurt. Consider how your operation would look in a “Monday morning quarterback” scenario. OSHA may envision supervision or a safety professional checking on the work or surveying the site. Such actions may not be practical for businesses such as a ready-mix delivery or a skilled technician working alone on controls.

Employers must continuously remind employees to always pause, consider the site or job's hazards and take steps to avoid these hazards. Of course, this is how all employees are expected to operate, but with isolated employees, you must drum this into their heads and devise processes to remind them to take this approach. For these workers, emphasize their unique role of having to conduct their own site safety or hazard analysis. One employer described the “TRACK” mantra their employees follow, which includes stop and:

Under construction OSHA standards 1926.20 and 21, an employer must:

How do employers meet their obligations when no supervisory or safety personnel accompany the workers? Possible actions might include: