The Health and Safety at Work Act has identified working alone as a hazard that must be managed. What safeguards should be established to minimise any risks?
WORKING ALONE can be dangerous. Whether it’s long hours on the road, meeting clients or being the only one on site, working alone presents unique risks.
What is a lone worker?
A lone worker is someone isolated from help, either due to location, time or the nature of their work. This could be someone who:
- drives through or works in geographical isolation or difficult areas to access, such as mountain terrain
- drives through or works in an area not likely to be accessed by others, such as remote rural areas
- drives through or works in an area where communications are difficult, such as telecommunication blackspots
- works a sole-charge late or early shift.
Are you or your staff lone workers?
Check if you or your staff are lone workers by answering these questions:
- If you or one of your workers was alone and injured on site and couldn’t use a cellphone, how would anyone else know there is a problem?
- Would anybody raise the alarm if you or one of your workers was in a car crash on the way to a rural site?
- How would you get in touch with your work or workers if there was a natural disaster?
Consider the risk factors
Risks to lone workers vary, depending on the nature of each job. Common risks include:
- safety – working alone means if something goes wrong or there is an accident, there may be no one else there to help
- security or confrontation – working alone may put you or your workers at increased risk from other people that you interact with, such as clients or strangers
- social, technological or organisational isolation – you or your workers might feel cut off from opportunities, information, interaction and events.
Must eliminate or minimise risks
The Health and Safety at Work (General Risk and Workplace Management) Regulations 2016 require PCBUs (persons conducting a business or undertaking) to manage risks to the health and safety of their lone workers.
If risks cannot be eliminated, they must be minimised, as far as is reasonably practical. Because each work situation is different, PCBUs may need to consider risks to lone workers on a case-by-case basis, unless there are specific codes of practice or industry guidelines already in place.
PCBUs must also have an effective way of communicating with lone workers.
Steps to take
There are things to do to stay safe and well as a lone worker:
- Design a plan for how to get help quickly in an emergency.
- Draw up a plan of risks you or your workers might face as a lone worker and discuss how these can be eliminated or minimised. You may wish to consider setting up a policy for this.
- Set up a plan for what to do when communication is lost, for example, in a natural disaster or when you or your workers are in a cellphone blackspot.
- Carry a monitored alarm that can be activated.
- Ensure emergency contact details are up to date.
- Consider getting a first aid certificate and carrying a first aid kit in vehicles.
- When a lot of travelling or driving is required, discuss the steps that can be taken to prevent fatigue. A free guide to preventing fatigue is also available at the Site Safe website.
- Set up a system of regular, scheduled contact with another person or supervisor. Managers should ensure that there are regular opportunities to keep in touch and to bring together the whole team, even if this is by email, telephone conferences or video conferences.
- Make sure everyone has access to the same technology.
- Make sure everyone has access to the same information, training, consultation and development. Managers should invite lone workers to work-related and social events whenever possible.
Site Safe offers training on managing workplace risks as part of its Advanced Passport course.
To talk to an expert advisor about protecting lone workers or setting up a health and safety policy, visit www.sitesafe.org.nz.
Articles are correct at the time of publication but may have since become outdated.