Many workers travel for work, work from home or spend time at other locations in the course of their employment – arrangements that may constitute ‘remote or isolated work’.
As an employer, you have an obligation to manage the safety of those working away from your premises, or out of the eyesight or earshot of others.
Remote or isolated work may include work that is carried out in:
- store rooms, ceiling spaces or on roofs;
- in rural areas;
- at the worker’s home; or
- at other locations a worker travels to for work purposes.
Most jurisdictions require employers to manage the risks associated with remote or isolated work. This involves providing a system of work that facilitates effective communication with the worker and a means of rendering timely assistance.
The following five actions can help reduce the health and safety risks to remote or isolated workers:
- Question the need for remote or isolated work to eliminate the risk
Consider whether it is even necessary for your workers to carry out remote or isolated work. A telephone or video conference may, for example, be sufficient rather than having a worker drive to a quiet country area. You may be able to eliminate the hazard entirely by changing work practices in this way.
- Limit the scope of work to reduce risks
If your risk assessment identifies increased risks from specific hazards, consider limiting the allowable scope of work for those working remotely or in isolation to avoid these high risks. For example, it is common practice for workers who are working in isolation to be prohibited from using hazardous chemicals or equipment.
- Apply a two-person rule
To minimise the need to maintain regular contact with an isolated worker, you can introduce a ‘two-person rule’ to ensure no worker is working alone.
For example, a construction company might make accessing roofs a mandatory two-person job and many include this requirement in their roof access permits. The logic is that if one of the workers is injured, the other can summon assistance.
- Plan for workers who are travelling or working in remote areas
Before workers travel to remote areas, they should provide an itinerary and planned route to a designated responsible person and be required to make contact at agreed times. The start and end of the day is recommended as the minimum times contact should be made.
If the risks are high, e.g. in the outback, a full risk assessment should be completed before work is commenced. Additional risk controls may include GPS tracking, a satellite phone, a rescue plan and emergency/survival equipment.
- Implement a system to check the home working environment
If you have employees working from home, you need to implement a process to ensure that your business has taken all reasonable steps to provide:
- a safe work environment;
- safe tools and equipment;
- safe systems of work; and
- training and supervision.
Here are some practical ways to ensure that a home working environment is safe:
- provide an independent risk assessment and regular inspections of the home working environment and tasks by a suitably qualified person, e.g. the same safety personnel who inspect and audit the regular workplace, and ensure there is regular contact between the workplace and the person working at home;
- enable the worker to self-assess the home working environment and tasks, e.g. provide a safety inspection checklist, train the worker on how to set up their work area and require them to provide photos of the proposed work area, and agree on contact frequency; or
- provide guidance material for working from home to brief workers on how to set up their work area and the importance of maintaining contact with the office, and to provide safety tips.
Taking steps such as these to assess and manage the risks posed by remote and isolated work situations will help employers to meet their health and safety obligations and reduce their liability.