Nowadays, most jurisdictions impose a strict duty of care obligation on employers. In other words, employers must provide a baseline level of care for their employees, i.e. ensure security and safety. That requirement, however, doesn’t just apply to employees working within the four walls of the traditional office; it also extends to lone workers.
And for reasons of the trade they practice, many lone workers usually have a higher level of work health and safety risk; in other words, guaranteeing their security and safety requires more effort from and better planning by employers. What then are the critical steps? The first is adequately identifying lone workers. Easier said than done.
That’s because individual jurisdictions often create their own definitions of lone work. For instance, Safe Work Australia, the country’s occupational health and safety regulator uses the term remote and isolated work instead. Remote and isolated work is defined as work that’s isolated from the assistance of other people, either because of the location, time, or nature of the work being done.
Further, remote and isolated work doesn’t even have to be lone work. Case in point: a contract building cleaner in a busy office qualifies as a remote or isolated worker just as much a truck driver operating hundreds of miles from a densely populated urban center.
Here are more examples of remote and isolated work:
- All-night convenience store and service station attendants
- Mobile sales representatives, including real estate agents
- Long-distance freight transport drivers
- Scientists, park rangers, and others carrying out fieldwork alone or in remote locations
- Health and community workers working in isolation with members of the public.
The implication (of those examples) is clear. Since lone work is a capacious term, organizations need to do their homework to develop a detailed understanding of who’s included (per jurisdictional standards) and who’s not.
The risk of misidentifying this class of worker is grave: specifically, companies will incur higher levels of business risk. What’s more, in failing to adequately manage lone workers, organizations also court risks adverse to the business. For one, lone-worker anxiety, from mismanagement, tends to erode employee productivity, engagement, and morale, leading to increased turnover and a lower corporate reputation. Further, without internal regulations, lone workers might put themselves in harm’s way. Accidents owing to insufficient or ineffective lone-worker risk management can, then, create serious liability for an organisation.
So who, then, are your lone workers? Maybe, we think first of traditional representatives of the lone-worker class: social workers, security officers, truck drivers, delivery agents, realtors, in-home health aides, traveling sales people, etc. And then, we turn to the industries who’ve historically employed the bulk of the lone-worker population, i.e. manufacturing, construction, property maintenance and real estate, retail, healthcare, utilities, operational security, logistics, energy, and the creative industries. But generally speaking, most jurisdictions define lone work as any professional work undertaken in a remote or isolated fashion and carried out in a fixed facility or away from the worker’s typical base.
Finally, the take-off of mobile work and concomitant growth in contracting only complicate a neat demographic picture of lone workers. In most jurisdictions, now, lone worker is a catchall term used to describe any employee, direct or contracted, who works in a location where regular communications and steady supervision aren’t always available.
The moral of the story: cast your eye far and wide to find your lone workers. Need further help mitigating the work health and safety risks to this population? Download our lone-worker risk mitigation guide for tips.
Safe Work Australia
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