A recent court case in the U.K outlined that workers performing basic routine maintenance type activities in isolated locations are susceptible to the same risks as the high volume populated workplaces. ‘Lone workers’ must be afforded the same duty of care as those on well populated sites. Working alone is just another risk that PCBU’s must take into consideration.
In the U.K. case the worker, a 54-year-old man, was found floating face down at a water treatment plant. He had been working alone on a sand filtration tank and while completing a routine task he had slipped and fallen into a narrow opening. The worker lay in the tank for four and half hours before a colleague was despatched to check on his status. The company was fined £1.8 million pounds (approximately NZ$3.6 MILLION), for failing to ensure the safety of a lone worker.
The circumstances are truly tragic, with the life of a middle-aged man taken far too soon and grieving family, friends and colleagues left behind.
The punitive action and associated fine, while certainly reflecting the severity of the incident, would in many cases see businesses placed into severe financial hardship and possible liquidation. The adverse publicity associated with a case of this nature would significantly impact even the most financially robust of businesses.
Given the differing legislative framework of both countries some may feel this example of punitive response is not so relevant for New Zealand, but the level of risk is almost certainly similar, and we have yet to assess and gauge the size of the penalties enforced under the new Health and Safety at Work Act 2015. Fines in this country may not rise as high as they have in the UK, well not for some time probably, but they are almost certainly going to be significantly greater than we have experienced under the previous legislation.
In an economic climate where most businesses are run on tight budgets and very slim margins, the question often becomes ‘what are the benefits associated with the costs of proactively managing risks associated with lone workers?’. However, the question should be ‘what are the potential costs, financial and social, of not effectively managing these risks?’.
Whether you are a large Major Hazard Facility, or a small enterprise, effectively assessing and managing risks asscoaited with lone workers should not be any more difficult than dealing with any other risk.
With increased awareness and an improving skill set in the market place, there is a lot of good advice now available. With ever advancing technology, the cost of managing these scenarios with the aid of technology has fallen and is now so much more affordable than in the past.
If your business has workers operating alone and / or in remote locations, how well are you managing the risks they are exposed to on your behalf? These workers are possibly more vulnerable than any other worker you may have, you owe it to them to ensure their safety.