Spare a thought for your lone workers. After all, they’re likely your highest-risk employees. And without your active intervention, they might end up in harm’s way.What’s more, accidents owing to insufficient or ineffective lone-worker risk management creates serious liability for you and your business.
Managing the safety and security risk to your lone worker population is part and parcel of your broader duty of care requirement as a PCBU (Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking), i.e. the obligation (within reasonable limits) to ensure the health and safety of all workers while they’re at work. In most jurisdictions, that general duty is to eliminate any and all risks to worker health and safety.
That duty extends to third-party contractors, who are often the parties that execute remote and isolated work. Further, it’s an obligation that can’t be transferred to another party, meaning it can’t be foisted on to lone workers. The PCBU alone is required to manage the risks associated with lone work, either eliminate them altogether or minimize them to an extent that’s reasonably practical.
How to do it for such a high-risk population? Well, for one, you’re going to want to integrate your lone-worker risk mitigation program, processes, and strategy into the broader safety risk management framework. Consider assessing, then controlling risk, first.
Context matters when you’re assessing lone-worker risk. In many contexts, remote and isolated work simply carries more inherent risk than other forms of work, whether it’s greater exposure to violent acts from customers or poorer access from emergency services should any incident occur.
How to wade through the levels of relative risk in your assessment? Start by thinking about what’s intrinsic to the kind of lone work executed at your organization. For instance, SafeWork Australia recommends asking the following questions:
- What kind of lone work is being done? 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. But simply knowing whether high-risk activity is involved in lone work isn’t enough, either. Safety and risk teams need to dig deeper. By definition, risk is always in a state of flux.
- Where is the lone work taking place? Is it at a significant geographical remove from emergency response and rescue services?
- When is the lone work being done? For context: remote and isolated work at night typically increases the risk of exposure to violence.
- How long will the lone work take? The risk to a lone worker often grows as time (on the job) increases.
- Who are your lone workers? Do they have the required experience and training.?
- What means of communication do you have with your lone workers? Will a team in a fixed setting remain in regular contact with the lone worker? Is work taking place in a location where available communications could be impaired?
The assessment results then feed into your risk controls, the actual strategies and tools you will use to manage the risk. Controlling measures to deal with lone-worker risk usually involve the following:
- 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
Of course, generic control measures can only provide a floor, never a ceiling, for acceptable behavior. To recoup the full business benefits of remote and isolated work, you’ll still have to implement best-practice controls that reduce or eliminate either the probability of the threat happening, the severity of the threat once it does happen, or the exposure of people and equipment. Keen to learn what control efforts might work for you? Download our best-practice guide to mitigating the work health and safety risk to lone workers.