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Why the COVID-19 Crisis Has Made Lone-Workers More Difficult to Protect

Posted by The Brain on Aug 11, 2020 4:40:04 PM

MKT-452 - Safety Newsletter Graphic - 12 Aug 2020-02

The imperatives of social distancing during the pandemic have created unprecedented changes to work. Foremost among them: the increased need for people to work alone or in remote arrangements.

For PCBUs (Persons Conducting a Business or Undertaking), more people working alone mean more lone workers in need of a new class of safety protections, documented internal policies to keep this high-risk occupational group out of harm’s way. How to go about mitigating the risk so you don’t incur the liability?

First, identify who the lone workers are in your organisation. Now, more than ever, it might be difficult to tell. Even before the COVID-19 crisis, the ranks of lone workers were changing, by practice and by statute.

Nowadays, most jurisdictions categorise lone workers (full-time and contract) as those that work in remote or isolated fashion where regular communications and in-person supervision aren’t always available. That’s typically why remote and isolated work has carried more inherent risk than other forms of work, whether it’s greater exposure to violent acts from customers or poorer access to emergency services should an incident occur.

Therefore, a key objective of any assessment of lone-worker risk at your organisation will be to fully consider the factors intrinsic to the lone work executed there. Like in any good risk assessment, you’ll have to ask probing questions. In the context of lone-worker risk, specifically, those questions will likely include the following:

  • What kind of lone work is being done? It’s not enough to know that lone work is taking place. Managers need to know the precise nature of the lone work that’s being done. Traditionally, 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 – of course, the pandemic, turning workers themselves into de-facto hazardous substances, complicates all of those former assumptions.

Nor is simply knowing whether high-risk activity is involved in lone work enough, either. Risk is dynamic. At first blush, driving might not seem like a high-risk activity. Factor in long hours and the potential for aggression on the road, and its risk increases. The same goes for working in a remote geography noted for its extreme environmental patterns.

  • Where is the lone work taking place? Remote and isolated work that take place at a significant geographical remove from emergency response and rescue services is of far higher risk.
  • When is the lone work being done? Statistically, remote and isolated work at night typically increases the risk of exposure to violent crime.
  • How long will the lone work take? Similarly, the risk to a lone worker might grow as time (on the job) increases. In the case of the pandemic, specifically, transmission risk to an offsite worker working with multiple employees (even in a reduced crew) increases the longer that work takes place.
  • Who are your lone workers? Remote and isolated work is often specialised work. And so, 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.
  • What means of communication do you have with your lone workers? Like the case with emergency services, a lone-worker’s distance from a reliable means of communication also increases risk. So, risk teams must ascertain what level (and means) of contact the lone worker will have with base operations.

Of course, identifying lone workers and assessing their relative level of risk are only the first steps. Once the risk is assessed, teams must actually put measures in place to control it. What would those controls to maintain acceptable levels of lone-worker risk look like? Download our complimentary Guide to Mitigating the Risk to Lone Workers to find out.

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Topics: Work Health Safety, Safety Management, Safety Newsletter


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