Why is Lone Worker Duty of Care so Important?
Why is Lone Worker Duty of Care so Important?
The simplest way to answer this question is because it’s nearly always safer for people to work together. In saying that, there are no laws that prevent people from working alone. In many cases, although there are increased risks, the work can be carried out safely and effectively by a lone worker. But what sort of factors affect the level of risk when someone is working alone? A great example of this we came across is from the Department of Commerce, in their Guidance Note Working Alone. While this is a Government document from Western Australia, it does cover many of the issues relating to lone workers Australia wide.
Factors that May Increase Risk for People who Work Alone.
Set out below are some of the factors to consider when identifying the hazards and assessing the risk of injury or disease for people who work alone.
The length of time the person may be working alone.
- How long would the person need to be alone to finish the job?
- What is a reasonable time for the person to be alone?
- Is it reasonable for the person to be alone at all?
- Is it lawful for the person to be alone while carrying out particular work activities? For example, there is a requirement for a person to stand by when work is undertaken in certain types of confined spaces.
The time of day when a person may be working.
- Is there an increased risk at certain times of day?
- What forms of communication does the person have access to?
- Is voice communication essential for the safety of the person?
- Will the emergency communication system work properly in all situations?
- If communication systems are vehicle-based, what arrangements are there to cover the person when he or she is away from the vehicle?
The location of the work.
- Is the work in a remote location?
- What is the form of transport? The level of risk may vary with different types of vehicles, different bikes (two, three or four wheels) or other forms of transport.
- Is the vehicle fitted with emergency supplies, such as adequate drinking water?
- What is likely to happen if there is a vehicle breakdown? For example, is the travel route likely to be populated?
- Will the person be required to leave his or here vehicle for long periods of time?
- Is first aid equipment is available for immediate treatment? For example, a first aid kit in the vehicle.
- If first aid equipment is vehicle-based, what arrangements are there to cover the person when he or she is away from the vehicle?
- What first aid training is required for the person to be able to use the first aid equipment?
The nature of the work.
- Is there adequate information and instruction for the person to be able to work alone safely?
- What machinery, tools and equipment may be used? For example, will heavy machinery be used?
- Are equipment and machinery maintained so that it is safe to use?
- Is there high-risk activity? For example, work at heights, work with electricity, work with hazardous substances or hazardous equipment, such as chainsaws or firearms.
- Is there likely to be work in a confined space (for example, repair or cleaning work inside a water tank or silo) and is the air in the confined space likely to be low in oxygen or contaminated in some way?
- Will fatigue increase risk (for example, with long hours driving a vehicle or operating machinery)?
- Is there an increased risk of violence or aggression when workers are alone? For example, are they required to work with people with a history of violenc?
- Can environmental factors affect the safety of the worker? For example, is the person likely to be exposed to extremes of temperature?
- Is there a risk of attack by an animal, including reptiles, insects, and sea creatures?
- Is there an effective system for checking that all protective clothing and equipment and emergency equipment is packed and in good working order?
- Are there procedures for regular contact with the person who works alone?
- If the person is working inside a locked building, how will emergency services gain access if the person is unable to let them in? For example, night cleaners who work alone.
The competencies and characteristics of the person who is working alone.
- Are you aware of anything in the person’s ethnic, cultural or religious background that is likely to increase risk if he or she works alone? For example, long periods of fasting where the lack of food and water intake may increase the risk of ill health in very hot weather.
- Is there anything that would interfere with the person’s ability to contact someone in an emergency?
- Are there factors relating to the person’s age that are likely to increase risk?
- What is the person’s general behaviour and level of psychological maturity?
- Is the person physically capable of completing all work activity alone?
- Are you aware of a pre-existing medical condition that may increase risk?
- Is the person likely to make sound judgments about his or her own safety?
- Is the person likely to cope in unexpected and stressful situations?
- What is the person’s level to cope in unexpected and stressful situations?
- What is the person’s level of work experience and training?
- Has the person had training to prepare them for the working alone and, where applicable, in remote locations? For example, training for first aid, relevant administrative procedures, vehicles breakdowns, communications systems and bush survival.
- If a road vehicle is used, is the person competent to drive on country roads and, where applicable, in off-road situations?
The Importance of Lone Worker Duty of Care Becomes Obvious.
As you can see from the list above, the factors that may increase the risk for people who work alone are vast and varied. It’s also worth noting that these risks are only a guideline, each industry, even each specific job, will encounter their own unique set of risks. This is why duty of care is so important for lone workers.
While there are many things that a company can do to improve the safety of their lone workers, there are also some minimum requirements. According to the Department of Commerce these include:
“The requirement to conduct the risk management process is a mandatory requirement set out in regulation 3.1 [of the OHS Act.]. There is also a requirement to have a means of communication in an emergency and a procedure for regular contact as set out in regulation 3.3. These are two regulations that will always apply in situations where a person is working alone.”
How do you make sure you are Fulfilling Your Duty of Care?
The risk management process mentioned above is a mandatory requirement, but it can be difficult to know where to start. WSG provides a rapid risk assessment tool and a 5 step risk assessment action plan example to help you get started. These are free to download on our website, you can also use them as often as you like. The WSG Safety App also combines your requirements of communication and an emergency procedure. The app is smartphone based, with a pre-determined and actionable emergency plan built into the response procedures, carried out by licensed control room operators, graded to the highest Australian standards (Grade A1).
Talk to us today and let WSG help you fulfill your duty of care.
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