With hundreds of staff working alone or in isolated situations, workplace health and safety is an operational priority for FIRST Security. In this article, FIRST Security’s Health, Safety & Environment Advisor, Chris Naya, looks at how other New Zealand businesses can protect their remote workers.
Remote worker safety is too important to be left to chance. It's essential to manage risks to the health and safety of your workers performing remote or isolated work.
Remote and isolated work
Remote and isolated work involves situations where personnel are exposed to risks. For instance, the nature or location of their work often means they cannot readily summon help if injury, illness, violence or another emergency occurs while they are at work.
From the outset, it is important to note that Health and Safety at Work (General Risk and Workplace Management) Regulations 2016 requires a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) to:
- Manage risk with remote or isolated workers and provide a system of work that includes effective communication with these workers;
- Identify hazards concerning the isolated workers and apply, review and maintain an effective hierarchy of control measures to manage this risk.
Risk Management Process
By default, a remote or isolated location involves risks and must be dealt with using Worksafe’s prescribed risk management process.
Along with potential fires or explosions, raised and falling objects, loose material in enclosed spaces, and substances hazardous to health, there are many hazards you need to identify to ensure the health and safety of your remote workers.
If you haven't already, carefully read through Worksafe's General risk and workplace management guidelines (Part 2), particularly section 2. In a nutshell, the risk management process described by these guidelines includes:
- Duty to identify hazards: PCBUs must identify hazards that could give rise to reasonably foreseeable work health and safety risks (i.e. risks that a reasonable person should anticipate);
- Hierarchy of control measures: Try to eliminate a risk if possible. Otherwise, minimise it by reducing its likelihood and potential harm. Measures can include substitution (with a lower risk activity), isolation (of people from the hazard), engineering control measures, administrative control measures, or PPE;
- Maintain effective control measures: control measures must be regularly monitored and checked to ensure that they effectively manage the risk. This should occur on an ongoing basis – not just when the control measure is first put in place;
- Review control measures: PCBUs must review and, as necessary, revise the control measures to maintain, so far as is reasonably practicable, a work environment that is without risks to health and safety. Note that there are prescribed circumstances in which reviews must occur.
Communication in remote or isolated locations
Employers and supervisors should provide regular contact and welfare checks with their remote personnel to ensure safe work practices. At FIRST Security, it's the job of our 24/7 National Operations Centre to conduct welfare checks and provide real-time support to officers in the field.
The communication system used must be reliable, timely and effective. Since telecommunications networks can be non-existent, poor or unreliable in many remote or isolated areas, a mobile phone is not considered acceptable or reliable communication in these situations.
As Worksafe guidance outlines, a communication system with gaps in coverage or which cannot be used in an emergency is unlikely to be effective. By assessing the risk faced by your remote workers, you should define what constitutes an effective communication system.
Employers must share their remote communication policy with their remotely working personnel promptly. They must also ensure that their people understand the policy and consult with them on anything that affects their health and safety.
If you’d like to discuss how to keep your remote workers safe, contact Chris Naya at firstname.lastname@example.org.