Working In Pairs: The Buddy System

ConstrWkrs2.pngBatman had Robin, the Lone Ranger had Tonto, Captain America had Bucky, and Starsky had Hutch; the list goes on of dynamic duos who achieved a lot working together. There is a lot to be learned from those who work in teams to achieve their goals. Working with a partner is good for many different reasons, and safety happens to be a very important one. If safety is a part of your goals, working in pairs may be a way to help you achieve it. Let’s focus on the buddy system and how it can help improve safety on the job.

What Is the Buddy System?

As per Merriam-Webster, the first known use of the phrase “buddy system” goes as far back as 1942. Webster goes on to define the buddy system as “an arrangement in which two individuals are paired (as for mutual safety in a hazardous situation).” The term buddy system is also defined by OSHA in 29-CFR 1910, “Occupational Safety and Health Standards” and in 29-CFR 1926, “Safety and Health Regulations for Construction” as “a system of organizing employees into work groups in such a manner that each employee of the work group is designated to be observed by at least one other employee in the work group. The purpose of the buddy system is to provide rapid assistance to employees in the event of an emergency.” The buddy system is important for many different reasons from providing an extra set of eyes on the job spotting safety issues to alerting and providing immediate medical attention should an event occur.

The buddy system is basically working in pairs or in larger groups, together, on a project specifically for the purpose of ensuring safety. Effective implementation of this system is not two individuals working on a project at the same time. Effective implementation is one person conducting the work while the other observes and quite possibly assists. Both individuals have a job to do, and one of those jobs is to ensure work is completed safely.

When to Use the Buddy System

It would be foolish to suggest that every menial task needs to be done with a buddy. The hard part is determining what work should be done in this manner. As always, erring on the side of caution is beneficial, but it never hurts to understand what, if any, requirements are out there that you must follow. This article is not going tell you what the law is and is not meant to be a guide to meet requirements of any laws. This dialog is meant to help you understand where it can be used and how others are using it so that you can decide how to implement in your organization. You should always be well aware of what laws require but note that you can go above and beyond. This may be an area where you can go above and beyond for safety sake.

OSHA provides guidance on when you need to work in pairs as part of OSHA 29-CFR 1910.269 (l)(1)(i), which provides the following list of types of work that must have at least two employees present when being performed:

  • Installation, removal, or repair of lines that are energized at more than 600 volts.
  • Installation, removal, or repair of de-energized lines if an employee is exposed to contact with other parts energized at more than 600 volts.
  • Installation, removal, or repair of equipment, such as transformers, capacitors, and regulators, if an employee is exposed to contact with parts energized at more than 600 volts.
  • Work involving the use of mechanical equipment, other than insulated aerial lifts, near parts energized at more than 600 volts.
  • Other work that exposes an employee to electrical hazards greater than or equal to those posed by operations that are specifically listed here.

The above does not apply to the following operations as per OSHA 1910 requirements:

  • Routine switching of circuits, if the employer can demonstrate that conditions at the site allow this work