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Lone, Remote Workers and Business Travellers

  • Wednesday March 23, 2022

Are employers doing enough to fulfil their duty of care to an overlooked workforce?

The impact of the pandemic has meant an increase in hybrid and agile working patterns and more employees working from home than ever before. This means that, as we move into a post-lockdown environment, it’s now more important than ever to protect the safety and well-being of employees.

Here is the conundrum for the employers across all industry sectors: while employers have always had long-standing health and safety at work and duty of care obligations to protect their lone and remote working staff, historical evidence shows that in practice these employees have been overlooked.

What are the legal obligations?
Protecting the safety and well-being of employees and colleagues when they are working on your behalf, is paramount irrespective of the location where the work activity is taking place.

Not only do employers have a moral duty, but they also have a legal obligation to proactively ensure the health, safety and welfare of employees at work, ‘so far as is reasonably practicable’ –  meaning the employer is required to implement measures that will either eliminate or at least reduce, control and mitigate the risk in question. This applies to any work-related activity but from an employer’s perspective it is logical to focus on the ‘higher risk’ work-related activities such as lone/remote working and travelling alone on company business.

Importantly, what is ‘reasonably practicable’ can quickly change as improved methods of addressing such specific risks improve – for instance with the introduction of new technology. Employers are duty-bound to regularly review their policies and procedures to ensure control measures remain adequate and, where necessary, take account of  relevant advances in technology and improved practices.

Which employees are designated as lone and remote workers?
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) defines lone workers as ‘those who work by themselves without close or direct supervision’. This includes drivers and users of various types of public  transport, and for many employers will encompass a sizeable number of staff.

Post lockdown, most employers will inevitably have more lone workers to protect, including an additional rise in employees choosing to drive for business and avoiding the use of public transport.

This will also result in additional risks associated with an increase in ‘grey fleet’ drivers – staff who do not receive  a company car – using their own vehicle for company-related journeys between different company sites and workplaces, potentially outside normal working hours and during more unsocial hours, and possibly to remote and/or unfamiliar locations.

What are the real-life risks faced by lone/remote workers?
While the many potential risks associated with the various forms of lone working are generally acknowledged, they have inexplicably taken on an almost ‘white noise’ characteristic and can  become ‘accepted’ by both employees and their employers.

It is also interesting to note that while driving alone on business is a form of transport with an increased risk to ‘life and limb’ –  psychologically, employees (and particularly female employees) may be more concerned about the implications of travelling alone on business using other forms of transport than actually driving.

For instance, employers (and  their employees) should probably be aware of these risks when  travelling to and from meetings outside of normal working hours, during the hours of darkness,  or to unfamiliar and potentially risky locations, possibly meeting complete strangers and/or being alone in remote or semideserted locations. Employers and employees may have greater concerns  about particular groups of employees in some circumstances, taking into  account gender, age and location.

These risks are often hidden in full sight so to speak, and when you talk to companies, they sometimes freely acknowledge that their lone working employees have been attacked, mugged or threatened in broad daylight.

Even when employers have a good awareness of incidents  involving their lone worker employees – curiously they rarely do anything new to reassure and/or address and improve the safety and well-being of their at-risk and  exposed employees.

How can the latest automated technology help employers provide extra protection and reassurance to their lone workers?
Historically, protecting lone and remote workers in a meaningful way has been a problematic and potentially complicated process. It has often required the  involvement of colleagues and a slow speed of response and predictability, thus falling short of the ideal solution.

Automated and AI-supported  phone app technology  conveniently deployable via the user’s mobile phone can provide a wealth of safety functionality.

One example of a new generation of multifunctional employee safety phone apps that help deliver employee protection is the global multi-language ‘Applied Companion’ app.

Employer/employee benefits of ‘app companions’ include:

  • automated ‘crash detection’ for passengers or drivers
  • programmable ‘safety checkpoints’ for lone workers
  • if the user feels at risk or under threat, they can opt to proactively liaise with a round the-clock emergency call centre
  • discreet ‘no touch’ emergency SOS capability
  • detection of the extremely dangerous activity of phone handling when driving
  • AI-learning capability provides recognition of ‘impaired driving’
  • pre-journey vehicle condition reporting plus post-accident reporting via on-board phone camera.

By Jim Golby, chair of the multi-award-winning employee safety and driver risk and accident management consultancy Applied Driving Techniques

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