Working alone under certain circumstances can increase an individual’s risk to health and safety. Measures to assess, communicate and mitigate such risks must be implemented to effectively manage risk related to this type of activity.
While there are legal restrictions (Ontario Occupational Health & Safety Act and related regulations) where working alone is prohibited in specific conditions on the basis of risk to health and safety, to support ongoing research and operational activities, the University, in its risk management framework will establish safety standards with respect to working alone for University faculty, staff and students.
This guideline applies to all faculty, staff, students and visitors performing work or participating in University activities on or off campus, including field research activities, under the direction of an authorized member of the University community.
This guideline and procedure should be used where an activity has the potential to result in exposure to hazardous materials or equipment, or to environments that pose a risk of injury or illness due to violence or hazardous conditions.
Working Alone: Working by oneself such that assistance is not readily available should some injury, illness or emergency arise. Alone is interpreted as being out of visual or verbal contact, and when contact cannot be expected from another person for more than an hour. It includes working in physical isolation, e.g. as the sole occupant of a laboratory or at a fieldwork site, where no other person is in the vicinity (i.e. within limited range or earshot). It can occur during normal working hours as well as in the evening, overnight or during weekends.
Roles and Responsibilities
In keeping with the University’s Health, Safety and Environment Management System:
Academic and academic support directors/chairs/heads should:
- Ensure that faculty, staff and students are aware of, and have been trained on the requirements for working alone
- Ensure that risk assessments have been conducted and appropriate controls put into place
- Establish general rules for working alone within the unit
Faculty and supervisors should:
- Identify situations where workers, including themselves, work alone and conduct risk assessments accordingly
- Develop appropriate controls to mitigate risk at the individual and/or project level
- Ensure that all individuals receive training and instruction in the details of the safety protocol or Standard Operating Procedure
Workers, students and other persons working alone should:
- Obtain supervisor approval before working alone
- Participate in the risk assessment and development of controls related to working alone
- Follow the protocol put into place and adhere to safe work practices
- Advise of any change in conditions, circumstances or deficiencies in the protocol or safe work practices
1. Working alone, especially after regular business hours, should be avoided whenever possible.
2. Working alone requires supervisor/PI knowledge or approval.
3. Approval for working alone or after normal hours must consider:
- Tasks and hazards involved in the work
- Consequences resulting from a worst-case scenario
- The possibility of an incident or injury that would prevent an individual from calling for help
- The individual’s training and experience level
- The time the work is to be conducted
- Access to emergency assistance
4. Conduct a risk assessment as per the guideline (below), identifying the hazards involved and safety protocols in place.
a) High Risk: Working alone prohibited as per applicable regulations.
b) Moderate Risk: Each area must develop a Standard Operating Procedure for working alone, including materials, equipment and processes that may not be used, and security measures to protect against theft, property damage or personal injury due to an intruder. All individuals who are approved to work alone must be trained on the SOP.
c) Low Risk: May work alone, however minimal precautions are required, including periodic check-in (supervisor or UW Police), access to phone and security measures to protect against theft, property damage or personal injury due to intruder. Individuals should follow the University Police Personal Safety Guide. A campus safety app is also available for download, which includes emergency tools, notifications, and tips for staying safe. Visit the WatSafe web page for more information.
Working Alone Risk Assessment
High Risk – Working alone prohibited
- Confined space entry
- Electrical systems rated at more than 750 volts
- Portable ladder that exceeds 6 metres in length and is not securely fastened, or work with a ladder that is likely to be endangered by traffic
- Use of fall arrest equipment (without travel restraint) or scaffolds
- Machines and power tools that may cause critical injury (e.g. lathe, table saw, chain saw)
- Work with acutely toxic material (e.g. cyanides, fumigants, hydrofluoric acid) as described in Safety Data Sheet (SDS)
- Use of supplied air or self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA)
- Risk of drowning
- Use of a vehicle, boom or similar equipment near live power lines where it is possible for any part of the equipment or its load to make contact with the live power line
- Open flame associated with flammable solvents
- Hot work where a fire watch is required
- Other tasks which based on hazard analysis is deemed to require more than one person for safety reasons
Moderate Risk – Presence of others is recommended (within shouting distance) and Standard Operating Procedure required
- Large volumes of chemicals
- Radioactive materials (above exempt quantities)
- Exposed, energized electrical systems
- Risk Group 2 Biohazard labs
- Class 3B and 4 lasers
- Work with materials acutely hazardous to health
- Work with human subjects
- Extreme temperature environments
- Handling of cash
- Dealing directly with the public
- Work in isolated areas (fieldwork)
Low risk – May work alone
- Custodial work
- Building maintenance with low risk
- Laboratory work with minimal risk (analytical equipment, monitoring equipment or process, work not involving hazardous materials)
- Routine office work or study