Lone Workers And The Covid Effect

Lone worker safety in New Zealand has never been a more pertinent issue with the Covid pandemic forcing a rethink of how people who work on their own can be better protected. Two of the most obvious considerations in this respect are:

  • the potential for aggression faced by service staff trying to apply new coronavirus rules e.g. a supermarket staff member or a bus driver asking reluctant customers/passengers to wear masks.
  • staff numbers reduced as companies tighten their budgets meaning more workers now perform their duties on their own. If something goes wrong, they lack direct support.

While supervised and accompanied colleagues do face risks, they are not alone when something happens. Not so for the lone worker. Workplace confrontations or accidents can have a profound effect and can reduce productivity and disrupt workplaces through:

  • impaired performance and output
  • increased staff absence
  • low employee/staff morale
  • more likelihood of mistakes and accidents
  • loss of company reputation through adverse publicity
  • resignations and difficulty recruiting
  • poor customer service and/or product quality.

For all these reasons and more, Employment New Zealand recommends employees working on their own should be able to summon help in an emergency. In the case of the bus driver or supermarket worker we discussed, you can be a lone worker while still being within reasonable proximity to others. The same goes for a nurse walking back to her car at night after she has finished her shift, or a pizza delivery worker delivering an order. You don’t have to be a million miles away to face risks, especially in the Covid era when workers are being expected to police rules and regulations i.e. the wearing of masks and physical distancing.

As an employer, lone worker safety has always been your responsibility. But have you put in place a safety policy that takes the “Covid effect” into account? One that recognises your employees may face greater risks than before? While you are legally obliged to protect all your employees, be they accompanied or on their own, you could also implement regulations to better protect them, particularly lone workers. This may include:

  • Conducting comprehensive lone worker risk assessments
  • Publishing a written health and safety policy which includes lone and remote work policy and guidelines and making sure all employees understand it
  • Taking further steps than in the past to reduce or eliminate risk and create a safer working environment
  • Providing lone worker emergency training
  • Regular reviews and improvements of lone worker risk assessments and policies

You have a legal obligation to eliminate the risk where you can and to minimise that risk where elimination is not possible. It’s imperative to better understand situations where people work alone and consider these questions:

  • Is there a safe way in and out of the workplace for a lone person working out of regular business hours?
  • What is the risk of confrontation or accident while a lone worker is performing their regular duties?
  • Are there reasons why the individual might be more vulnerable and be particularly at risk if they work alone? Common examples include if they’re young, pregnant, have an existing medical condition, are disabled, or a trainee?
  • Does the workplace present other risks to the lone worker? For example, handling equipment, such as portable ladders or trestles, that one person may find difficult to handle?
  • Are hazardous substances being used that pose risks to someone working alone?
  • Do designated work duties involve lifting objects that are too heavy for one person?
  • If the lone worker’s first language is not English, are arrangements in place to still allow them to communicate clearly, especially in case of an emergency?
  • Are they equipped with devices that allow them to send an alert that will be received immediately, such as the hardware provided by this company specialising in lone worker protection in New Zealand and Australia?

When putting together a more stringent safety plan, especially one with a focus on lone worker protection, involve your employees as much as you can. They’re the ones doing it on their own, so their suggestions or areas of concern would be invaluable and highly relevant. Think of them as your eyes and ears, and well capable of identifying issues and potential risks, as well as the best solutions. It’s always been important to look after your lone workers but in an environment where everything has changed, your duty of care towards them needs to change as well.

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