Hiring employees to perform remote and isolated work often helps businesses improve their productivity. But lone work isn’t without operational risk. For one, managing the safety risk to lone worker populations is part and parcel of a PCBU’s (Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking) duty of care obligation.Sound daunting? It shouldn’t. Lone-worker risk mitigation is manageable.
For starters, lone-worker risk mitigation, to be effective, has to be part of a broader work health and safety risk mitigation strategy – not undertaken in silo. And here, context matters: remote and isolated work simply carries more inherent risk than other forms of work. The objectives of assessing lone-worker risk must then be to fully consider the factors intrinsic to the kind of lone work executed at your organization. That might require asking some of the following questions:
- What kind of lone work is being done? It’s not enough to know that lone work is taking place. Safety risk managers need to know the precise nature of the lone work that’s being done, as well. Cleaning an office at night carries far different risk than work with heavy machines, at heights, with hazardous substances, or (even) simply in a hazardous plant.
Simply knowing whether high-risk activity is involved in lone work isn’t enough, either. WHS professionals and risk teams need to dig deeper. Risk is always dynamic. At first glance, driving might not seem like a high-risk activity, but factor in long hours and the potential for violence and aggression on the road, and risk increases. The same goes for (extreme) environmental conditions.
- Where is the lone work taking place? Sometimes, remote and isolated work takes place at a significant geographical remove from emergency response and rescue services.
- When is the lone work being done? Statistically, remote and isolated work at night typically increases the risk of exposure to violence.
- How long will the lone work take? Similarly, the risk to a lone worker might grow as time (on the job) increases.
- Who are your lone workers? Remote and isolated work is often specialized work, calling for employees who carry a specialized skillset. Both the business unit assigning the work and the team controlling for work-related risk should know the lone worker’s level of experience and training. HR should be brought into the loop, as well, if there’s a pre-existing medical condition that can increase risk.
- What means of communication do you have with your lone workers? Finally, risk teams must ascertain what kind of communications the lone worker will have (with base operations), while on the job. Will a team in a fixed setting remain in regular contact with the lone worker? And also, is the remote and isolated work taking place in a location where available communications might be impaired?
After assessing dynamic lone-worker risk, there’s controlling it, i.e. implementing controls, actual strategies and tools, to manage the risk, either to significantly mitigate it or eliminate it altogether.
Best-practice control efforts typically start with suitable training for lone workers, training which focuses on concrete, practical strategies to remain safe in specific lone-work settings.
Those remote or isolated environments also need to be made as safe as possible for lone workers, which means that business and risk teams must perform due diligence on the setting that the worker is entering and relay those findings to the lone worker.
Further controlling measures include:
- Worker consultation and involvement in the consideration of potential risks and in the development of measures to control them
- Taking affirmative steps to remove risks (where possible), or implementing control measures
- A degree of specialized instruction, training, and supervision
- Periodic review of the risk assessment as well as subsequent reviews after significant changes in working practice
Finally, PCBUs must provision their lone workers with the necessary tools and services to perform remote and isolated work effectively and safely, whether it’s access to workplace layouts, the help and supervision of a buddy, personal protective equipment, first aid supplies, communications technologies, the list goes on.
Not sure how? Don’t worry. Our comprehensive guide to lone-worker safety risk management has got you covered. Download now to learn how to recoup the productivity benefits of lone work without incurring the safety risk.
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