DENTAL PRACTICE ARTICLES
Protecting Workers Who Work Alone
Protecting Workers Who Work Alone
>From time to time, dental office staff may find themselves working on their own, for example a receptionist who stays late to fill the schedule or a continuing care coordinator who makes most of the calls during evening hours. Working alone has been identified as a significant risk factor in regard to workplace violence. Protecting workers who work alone is the responsibility of all employers, managers and supervisors.
It is a legislative requirement that dentists must do “everything that is reasonable under the circumstances” (Occupational Health and Safety Act, Sec. 25) to ensure that their workers have a healthy and safe workplace. Ensuring that workers working alone are safe is within the scope of the intent of the law.
The Joint Health and Safety Committee or Health Safety Representative in your office needs to identify all situations in which a worker must work alone and assess the conditions under which that work takes place. Then develop a plan tailored to the individual work situation, outlining steps to ensure, as far as possible, the worker’s safety. Make sure the plan includes the name, address and location of the dental office, and recognize, identify and assess the potential risks to each worker who may be working alone.
Have a written policy and procedure that commits your dental office to safeguarding workers who work alone. The purpose is to protect employees in situations that could result in injury or health problems or expose them to possible criminal violence or other adverse conditions. For a sample policy that covers protecting dental workers who work alone, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line – Protecting Workers Who Work Alone.
Implement control measures that will minimize each risk factor and include details of how workers can get help if they are in situations that could endanger their safety or in the event that they are injured. Choose appropriate control measures which may include:
A “buddy” system.
Regular personal checks by another person (visits/walkthroughs by the employer, supervisor, security guard, another worker or police).
Periodic telephone contact.
Mechanical or electronic surveillance (e.g., pagers or walkie-talkies).
Central monitoring of staff working alone. (note – if you have central monitoring system you also should have a policy in place that covers video surveillance)
Train all staff members in ways to work alone safely. This includes requiring the employee to report suspicious patient behaviour and incidents and how to leave a risky situation safely. The employer should create an environment in which concerns can be expressed without fear of reprisal or judgement. If a problem should occur, provide necessary counseling or help for staff. Investigate the incident thoroughly to identify ways to prevent future problems. Make the plan discussed above available to a provincial inspector upon request.
At every staff meeting workplace health and safety must be an important agenda item. Protecting the safety of workers who work alone is an essential component of your overall workplace health and safety policies and procedures. Workplace health and safety is everyone’s business.
Source: Ontario Safety Association for Community Healthcare (OSACH). Individual Fast Facts can be copied freely provided appropriate credit is given to OSACH.
Author: Sandie Baillargeon