Remote work, lone work, mobile workers…

words: Simon Bloxham

Yes, you could argue that it is all a bit complicated, but I prefer to say confusing. What is the issue though?

Research has shown that the number of people working from home is around 4.2 million (14% of the workforce). Well, I hear you say, that’s not what happens here. But wait, in 2014, 1.4 million of those worked solely at their home or its grounds, leaving 2.8 million as remote or mobile workers. A remote and mobile worker is defined as an individual who spends less than four hours at a home or workplace base per week with the majority of their working time being on the road or with clients.

Case law

In 2004, a Scottish gamekeeper died after crashing his quad bike; however it took 52 hours for anyone to notice he was missing. Trustees admitted failing to provide a means of communication or carrying out a risk assessment for a lone worker to report in at the end of a shift. Also, he was not provided with a mobile phone to call for help. The estate he worked for was fined £3,000.

Estate agent Suzy Lamplugh disappeared in 1986 after she went to meet a client at an empty house. Her parents were keen that lessons should be learnt from the case to make it less likely that others would lose family members through poor management of lone working, setting up the Suzy Lamplugh Trust to highlight the risks people face and to offer advice, action and support to minimise those risks.

Working alone

‘Working alone’ or ‘lone working’ means working in an area – or in circumstances – where there are no other workers present.

In the event of an emergency, there is no one to give assistance or summon help. Most remote and mobile workers are lone workers, especially those who work outside ‘normal’ office hours. And beware this one, as you might only focus on your lone staff member visiting homes late at night, but don’t forget your cleaner after hours as well. It is estimated that the mobile workforce will continue to grow in coming years.

Health and wellbeing of remote and mobile workers

The risks to physical safety faced by remote and mobile workers, particularly verbal and physical assaults in the case of public-facing roles, have long been recognised.

In studies, almost two-thirds of remote and mobile workers report psychological distress, neck, shoulder, lower back pain and poor mental health linked to:

• Longer working hours
• Higher customer numbers
• High psychological demands
• Low decision authority
• Lack of role clarity
• Role conflicts

Driving (both high mileage and long hours) is linked to lower back, neck and shoulder symptoms. It is estimated that just under half of remote and mobile workers suffer road rage at least once a year and 11% are assaulted.

What can I do?

• Conduct risk assessments for those activities that involve remote or mobile working
• Design and implement policies and procedures to protect those who work alone
• Consult with employees about the best way to manage the risk
• Provide information, instruction, training and supervision for workers Issue workers with necessary communication equipment, e.g. personal alarms, mobile phones; and ensure that appropriate training is given in their use
• Record the location of workers, via a diary or whiteboard
• Require workers to regularly report to their office base or to a co-worker
• Provide workers with appropriate training, e.g. aggression management, assertiveness and negotiation as relevant to their work
• Ascertain the medical history/fitness of potential workers if activities are likely to impose extra demands on physical or mental stamina
• Eliminate cash handling as far as is reasonably practicable

Help is at hand – getting the best from your SAIF-approved health and safety advisors

If you’d like to learn more about health and safety, as well as the legal obligations of employers, we’ve got you covered. If you don’t want to hear “you can’t do this” then talk to a safety professional at Safety For Business free of charge, simply by calling 08456 344164.

You are also entitled to a discount on our fees when we help you with your health and safety needs. We can visit you to see how you are doing when it comes to compliance. This is free of charge apart from travel costs. So what do you have to lose?

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