Amendment to the Alberta Occupational Health and Safety Act
An amendment to the Alberta Occupational Health and Safety Regulations (AR448/83) comes into full force on April 30, 2001. This amendment is designed to ensure that adequate measures are taken to protect workers who are working alone. It requires employers to achieve this by:
- Assessing all work areas for potential safety hazards and to take measures to eliminate or reduce these hazards
- Have an effective communication system available for the worker to summon help in case of an accident or emergency. This requires that everyone who supervises people who may have to work alone in an office, vehicle, lab, shop or field site must assess the hazards and develop guidelines to reduce the risks associated with that work. This legislation does not forbid people from working by themselves.
The Occupational Health and Safety Act is intended to set standards to protect the health and safety of employees in Alberta. Employers have responsibilities are expected to set up safe work practices and also to ensure that these practices are followed. Workers are also expected to cooperate and follow the rules designed to promote health and safety at the workplace. This is the act that requires WHMIS training for workers to inform them of all the hazards they may encounter while doing their job. The amendment was developed, at least partly, as a result of the death of a convenience-store worker after a robbery in Calgary. However, it has application for many different kinds of job situations.
Definitions and Interpretations:
A worker is considered as “working alone” if the individual is working by his/herself such that assistance is not readily available should some injury, illness or emergency arises.
Alone is interpreted as being out of visual contact with another person for more than a few seconds.
The OH&S Act refers to workers, not just employees; this means that volunteers (unpaid workers) are also covered by the legislation.
The act covers students in laboratories of technical schools and universities and students engaged in on-the-job work experience programs.
Students who are not volunteers or paid for some service are considered to be self-employed. As such, they have a responsibility for complying with the Act but educational institutions like a university are viewed as a prime contractor with responsibility for the worksite that houses all the self-employed students (although the details for responsibility are not altogether clear with respect to students, it is obvious that the University has some accountability for ensuring student safety).
Exemptions: The Act does not apply to:
- students enrolled in elementary schools
- students working in a classroom or computer lab
- students participating in extra curricular activities
- farmers and ranchers
- workers working in their own private dwelling
- domestic workers (nannies, housekeepers)
- federal government workers and workers in federally-regulated industries (banks, television, radio broadcasting).
What needs to be done if people you supervise are working alone?
Conduct a hazard assessment of the area and work procedures to identify hazards and try to eliminate them. If you cannot eliminate the hazards, then try to minimize or control them. Make sure there is an effective means of communication available to the worker in case help is needed. Ensure that all workers are trained and educated in how they are to do their work safely.
You should also consider an assessment of work in areas like offices or reading rooms where no ‘hazardous activities’ are conducted. In these instances, matters of personal security are likely most important. You could advise someone that you expect to return be a certain time so that they might check on you if you are late. This would be much more important if a person had a medical condition that predisposed them to become incapacitated (e.g. epilepsy). Workers and supervisors need to assess the risk of injury for the individuals in all areas, even those where “activity risks” are considered minimal.
1. Hazard Assessment
In cooperation with the workers, review all aspects of the work that might be done and anticipate the kinds of hazards that might arise. You are looking for risks of occupational injury as well as potential for personal injury from a violent attack.
Review records of past incidents to help identify potential problems
Identify what can be done to eliminate or minimize the hazards.
The assessment should be written and dated. It should be reviewed and updated as needed.
You need a hazard assessment for each different set of conditions. If you have 10 offices with similar activities in each, then one assessment should cover all.
Your assessment might include restricting certain activities until another person is present. This is exactly the same as prohibiting certain activities if workers are not properly trained or if they do not have the appropriate safety equipment. No one should be permitted to work alone in laboratories, you should encourage the use of the buddy system at all times.
Besides injury from personal actions, consider hazards that might arise from other aspects of the work. Are you exposed to personal attack by animals (bears, dogs, elk)? Do you have to travel to remote locations and meet with clients you do not know in their office?
2. Effective Communication:
In case someone needs help, they need access to a means of communication. This does not mean everyone must be issued a cellular phone or radio although these may be a good idea in some situations. Within the department there are telephones in many rooms and most of the pay phones have quick dial buttons to Protective Services and 911. Undergraduate students should be made aware of where telephones are located and who to call (Protective Services personnel know their way around campus while a 911 operator will want your street address; call for help at the University level first). If nothing else is available, a tripped fire alarm will bring assistance.
Field workers present a bigger problem with regard to communication. Cell phones may not work where you are located and you may be out of radio contact. In this case, walkie-talkies, SAT phones or a check-out check-in system might be used. A log book is kept in a base camp and people sign out before they leave indicating route, destination, activity and estimated return time. When they return they check back in. The log must be examined at regular intervals and procedures should have been outlined in case a search has to be mounted. In some cases, a check in routine might be used even if an electronic means of communication is available. If someone is doing highly dangerous work like felling trees or crawling through sewers, they might have hourly contacts with someone. The frequency of contact will depend on the nature of the hazard. Even without electronic communication, regular contact could be achieved using flash-lights or flags if for instance, people were working on opposite sides of a lake.
The process of conducting a hazard assessment and seeking measures to reduce the risks will take some time. Except in simple situations, the assessment will need to be reviewed and updated as conditions change.
All supervisors need to begin a hazard assessment of any situations where workers may have to work alone. You need to identify potential hazards and consider means to reduce or eliminate the risks. Most of these assessments will include preparing a list of emergency contacts (telephone numbers), how to contact help, and locations of safety equipment and other resources. The assessment must be written and the information communicated to all workers.
Information on the Working Alone Regulations:
For more information, view the Government of Alberta, Workplace Health & Safety at:
-or view the Office of Environmental Health & Safety web-site regarding the U of A Policies and procedures: EH&S link
-the Office of Environmental Health & Safety has developed a Working Alone Template for all U of A office and labs to adapt to their areas. Go to their website at: Working Alone Template to download a copy. EH&S link
-and view Protective Services Lone Worker Program at: Protective Services
Department of EAS Response to the Working Alone Regulations:
In April, 2001, the EAS Safety Committee did a Safety Audit of all areas in the department. All Faculty were given information on what they needed to do to comply with the Working Alone Regulations for their lab areas or field areas.
As well, the Safety Committee developed a Working Alone Policy for all departmental facilities. The following areas have been assessed and procedures have been implemented: