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Protecting the lone worker

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to test employee health and safety protocols


As the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic takes hold, employers are dusting off peak-COVID-19 health and safety protocols and preparing to implement them across their workplaces, if necessary.

Organizations that only recently welcomed employees back into their offices are wondering whether they’ll once again have to ask them to work remotely, where possible. Whether organizations will need to close their workplaces entirely during this second go-round remains to be seen. Most provincial governments are reluctant to escalate shutdown measures and companies are, for a wide variety of reasons, desperate to maintain the new status quo and eventually return to some semblance of pre-COVID normalcy.

At the very least, companies that can offer work flexibility will continue to do so to help minimize worker interactions. As such, many organizations will be operating with skeleton staffs across their workplaces. In some cases, they may only have a lone employee manning the proverbial fort. For example, businesses such as gas stations and fast food outlets are prime targets right now because they’re less busy than usual and sometimes have only one or a few employees working overnight shifts. That creates a wide variety of security challenges. Even the risk of fire or medical emergencies create potential security gaps that need to be filled when there are fewer people in a building.

A plethora of risk factors leave a lone — or small handful of — on-site employees vulnerable, and their employers exposed to significant potential civil and employment law liability. COVID-19 or not, employers still have a duty under provincial occupational health and safety legislation to do their utmost to protect employees in the workplace to the point of undue hardship. Even if you only have one employee working in a building, the obligation to account for that individual’s health, safety and security is still paramount.

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The first step is to conduct a thorough risk assessment to determine how the safety and security of lone employees, or skeleton staffs, could be compromised. Is your facility located in a relatively underpopulated area? Will your employee have significant interaction with the public (especially at night) that could make them a target? Is anything valuable kept on site — including stored data — that could make it attractive to criminals? Is the individual (or small team) trained and prepared to manage emergency situations? Work with your security team or service provider to develop a customized list that addresses your organization’s specific operational needs and workforce characteristics. Next, develop a security strategy to protect your people (or lone employee). That might include assigning a security professional to guard the premises.

This sort of measure may seem costly, but if it ensures the protection of that person and other vital equipment or materials, it could be well worth the price tag. In most cases organizations will leverage cutting-edge technology to protect their skeleton staff. High-definition cameras (equipped with facial-recognition software, if possible), advanced biometric keypads at entry points, alarms that connect to a 24/7 monitoring station and/or local emergency services and even drones or robots, are being utilized to ensure full security coverage. Quite often organizations will employ a hybrid approach, relying on both security personnel and technology solutions. The key point to remember is that whether we’re in the midst of a global pandemic or not, lone employees that are asked to work at a facility still require the same safeguards they and their colleagues would enjoy under normal working conditions.

Ultimately, the best defence is to train employees and make them aware of the potential risks they face when working alone on the job. It can also go a long way towards protecting your organization’s bottom line by limiting liability and unnecessary risk.

So, before you ask that lone individual to return to the workplace, first think about how you plan to protect them.

Winston Stewart is the president and CEO of Wincon Security (www.wincon-security.com)


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