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Firefighter Guidance Note: Considerations for Working Alone

Disclaimer: This resource has been prepared to help the workplace parties understand some of their obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and regulations. It is not legal advice. It is not intended to replace the OHSA or the regulations. For further information please see full disclaimer.

Background

Firefighters may work alone during non-emergency response work.

Concerns/hazards

Firefighters may require medical, police or employer assistance, due to injury, accident or assault, for example.

Actions for employers

Employers should:

  • develop and implement procedures for working alone, including procedures as part of their workplace violence program (see guidance note on violence and harassment)
  • consider alternatives to workers working alone, such as allowing use of the “buddy system” in potentially high risk situations

Working alone procedures

Employers should consider the following in their procedures:

  • determining situations in which workers must not work alone
  • a reliable method for knowing the location of their workers at all times, for example, a check-in/check-out procedure for workers, by cell phone or radio, to a supervisor or dispatch centre, and preparing a daily work plan
  • a predetermined response to distress calls from workers
  • training for workers on how to recognize and avoid potentially violent situations
  • training for workers on conflict resolution and mediation
  • procedures to follow if an assault takes place
  • providing information on high risk geographical areas to workers
  • limiting the time of day visits can be made to high risk areas/clients
  • keeping client records and informing workers of clients known to be aggressive, hostile or potentially violent

Safe practices for field activities

When you are carrying out field calls, such as serving official documents or conducting enforcement activities, you should:

  • access all available information about a client before meeting with them
  • arrange to meet clients in a 'safe' environment where other people are around, such as a restaurant, hotel lobby, or their office/workplace if at all possible
  • wear comfortable, professional clothing and practical shoes which will enable a quick exit, if necessary
  • wear or carry your identification badge, to show that you are acting in an official capacity and doing your job
  • carry only what is necessary, avoiding large or numerous bags or cases
  • always take a cell phone or radio, if provided, and keep it in an accessible location
  • be alert and make mental notes of the surroundings when arriving at a new place
  • know where the exits are at all times
  • direct the client’s movements, if necessary, to avoid allowing the client to come between you and the exit
  • maintain a 'reactionary gap' between yourself and the client, out of reach of the average person's kicking distance
  • sit across the table from the client to increase the gap, if possible.
  • bring two copies of any written material, so that you can sit across from the client and avoid sitting beside them
  • ask a colleague to come with you if something makes you feel uneasy
  • discuss any feelings of discomfort or apprehension about an up-coming meeting with your supervisor
  • keep records and indicate if the client is known to be aggressive, hostile or potentially violent, and include incidents that made you feel apprehensive

You should not:

  • enter any situation or location where you feel threatened or unsafe
  • remain in any situation or location that you feel has become or has the potential to become threatening or unsafe
  • carry weapons of any type, including pepper spray, as weapons are dangerous and can be easily used against you
  • post or announce your official schedule on social media
  • hesitate to call for police assistance

Safe practices for fire investigation activities

When you are conducting fire investigation activities you should:

  • follow all safety procedures established by the employer, such as wearing of personal protective equipment, accountability and electrical safety

High risk activities to avoid when working alone

 You should avoid these high risk activities when working alone:

  • working at heights or in elevator shafts
  • working with electricity or with de-energized or locked out/tagged out equipment
  • hazardous substances or materials
  • hazardous equipment such as chainsaws
  • materials at great pressure
  • working with the public, where there is a potential for violence

Applicable regulations, acts and standards

Read:

  • Occupational Health and Safety Act
    • clause 25(2)(a) for providing information and instruction to a worker
    • clause 25(2)(h) for taking every precaution reasonable to protect workers
    • sections 32.01 to 32.08 for protecting workers from violence and harassment
    • subsection 51(1) for reporting requirements if a worker is critically injured or killed

Related

Learn more about how to stay safe when working alone.

Learn more about workplace violence and harassment, including legal rights and responsibilities.

Read firefighters guidance notes about:

Disclaimer: This web resource has been prepared to assist the workplace parties in understanding some of their obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and the regulations. It is not intended to replace the OHSA or the regulations and reference should always be made to the official version of the legislation.

It is the responsibility of the workplace parties to ensure compliance with the legislation. This web resource does not constitute legal advice. If you require assistance with respect to the interpretation of the legislation and its potential application in specific circumstances, please contact your legal counsel.

While this web resource will also be available to Ministry of Labour inspectors, they will apply and enforce the OHSA and its regulations based on the facts as they may find them in the workplace. This web resource does not affect their enforcement discretion in any way.