The Crucial 6-Step Risk Assessment Process for Lone Workers

Risk Assessment

By Brye Sargent, CSP

The Risk Assessment Process does not need to be complicated, but it should be thorough.  When dealing with lone workers, you want to implement two risk assessment processes. One completed for the job as a whole, and a secondary one that is completed by your lone workers at their work site. 

Before you can implement a field risk assessment or train your remote workers on how to complete one, you must first conduct one for the job as a whole. This will give you a broad understanding of the risks, hazards, and exposures related to the position.   

A risk assessment should be completed before work is performed and the first job tasks are assigned. In addition, it’s best practice to repeat the risk assessment whenever the position changes or every three years to keep it up to date and current. 

The risk assessment process can be broken down into six different steps. Each step is crucial to rooting out all the risks your workers are exposed to. When you can clearly identify risks, you have the information you need to reduce them. Without clarity on the risks, you’re likely exposing your workers to an increased chance of injury or harm.  

The Risk Assessment Process Starts with Regulations 

Several agencies regulate the work being performed. The exact regulatory bodies will depend on your industry. Examples include OSHA, Homeland Security, FDA, and EPA. 

Not all risks will be covered by regulations, but starting with the rules and laws is the best first step in the risk assessment process. This will give you the broad categories of risks your workers may be exposed to. 

As you look through the regulations that apply to you, make note of the hazard categories and any specific requirements. The goal of this step is to start your list of hazards and in what situations your workers will be exposed. 

Analyze Past Claims, Injuries, and Incident Data 

The second step of the risk assessment process is to look at events from the past.  These are clear signals of hazards your workers can be exposed to; even if the risk has been eliminated, it’s still documented in your hazard assessment. 

For each claim, injury, incident, or near miss list the behaviors or actions of the worker and all the root causes or contributing causes of the event.   

The law of large numbers states that the bigger your data set the more accurate the sampling will be. Therefore, looking back through several years of data will give you the most amount of information to make your risk assessment as comprehensive as possible. 

Examine the Environmental Hazards Your Workers Are Exposed To 

Now that you have a clear understanding of the severe risks covered by regulations and you’ve examined past events of your organization, it’s time to look at the work itself and uncover all the possible hazards or events that your workers may face. 

Look at or think about the possible work environments your workers may be entering.   

  • Traveling on roadways to their worksite creates hazards. 
  • Home health care entering a residential home that may expose them to working in ways that aren’t ideal ergonomically. 
  • Sales associates visiting the backside of a business may be entering areas where they are not familiar causing slip and fall hazards. 
  • Lone workers in remote areas of a facility have the added issue of communication with other parts of the facility. 

Consider all the facilities, equipment, and process hazards in your risk assessment process. 

Examine the Animal & Human Hazards Lone Works Face 

Along with facility and work hazards, your lone workers may be exposed to unexpected hazards while out in the public environment. 

If their work takes them into fields, woods, or vegetation, there could be encounters with wild animals or insects that could cause harm. But also consider workers who enter residential homes with domesticated animals. There is still a possible threat of an animal attack as many pets become territorial when strangers enter. 

Also, don’t disregard the possibilities of violence, either through criminal activity while your worker is present, employee disagreement, or hostel clients. Even if the possibility is remote, you still want to include it in your risk assessment. 

Your Risk Assessment Process Must Include Interviewing Your Employees and Managers 

At this stage of your risk assessment, you’ve gathered a good amount of data. To make sure you have the full picture of the hazards, it’s time to talk to the people most familiar with the work, your employees, and the supervisory team. 

Sit down with several of your workers and discuss your findings with them. And ask for their feedback and insight. Explain that this risk assessment is to protect them and you want to make sure it includes every possible scenario so that the company can look out for them. 

Add anything they suggest to your list. 

Organize All the Hazards into a Comprehensive Hazard Assessment List 

As you look over all your findings from these six steps of the risk assessment process, you will likely find some duplicates as well as similar types of hazards. Before you can start to eliminate or mitigate these hazards, you want to organize them into a simple and easily understood list. 

  1. Remove duplicates 
  2. Look for the broad categories of hazards 
  3. Group similar hazards together 

What you want to be left with is a list of hazards and the situations where these hazards are present. This is your complete hazard assessment of the job. 

The Next Important Steps…Mitigating the Hazards Found 

Just having a risk assessment is not enough. Once you’re aware of the hazard, you must take steps to protect your workers from these hazards. This can be a process of developing training, SOPs, JHAs, or Safety Policies. 

Most importantly, don’t go through the risk assessment process just to have your completed assessment sit on a shelf. This document is the bases of job descriptions, PPE assessments, light duty programs, and more. It is the foundation for protecting your company and workers.