So which industries have remotely-located employees? What businesses or agencies have employees who work by themselves? Is this really much of an issue? Is this really such a widespread concern?
It seems like the more the questions are asked, or the deeper one looks, the range of affected industries, enterprises and agencies becomes staggering. And yet, it is difficult to find broadly applied standards that speak to the Lone Worker or the Remotely Located Employee. Yes, there are some. But largely this is a topic that falls into a "Grey Zone" between strictly prescribed regulations and the broader, open platforms of modern and sophisticated occupational safety and health management schemes.
And maybe this is something that doesn't get more attention because incidents only typically involve one or two people – not dozens of injured or killed in a single event. It seems to be reported by the popular media much like highway fatalities and crashes: there are stories every day about car crashes resulting in fatalities or series injures, but these buried away from the headlines as it is not considered ‘headline new's.’ Nothing makes headlines more than mayhem with mass casualties.
And, yet, if the incident is something that happened to you, someone in your family, a close friend or a colleague, it most certainly does hold a high level of pain, suffering and upset. It hits hard and close to home. The media doesn't cover that. But the long-term impact on you is marked and unforgiving.
Now we don't mean to suggest that here in the USA employers have broad latitude as to whether they need to do something or not; the federal regulations are very clear. We refer, of course, to the OSH Act of 1970's widely acknowledged General Duty Clause. Specifying that, in fact, the employer does have the obligation, under statute, to provide a safe workplace for their employees. But this actionable mandate is just this: a broad, non-specific assignment to make work safe.
Our colleagues within OSHA do have several very specific regulations where working alone is not allowable. General Industry, Construction and the Shipyard regulations all have some mention of not accepting employees being left on their own for too long. But the overall black-and-white of the Code of Federal Regulations is not overly prescriptive. And that is by design.