Employer Responsibilities for Lone Worker Health and Safety

If you own or operate a business in Australia, then you’re aware there are health and safety laws protecting workers. These laws keep workers safe but are also there to keep your business safe. Following all the laws can save you money. How? By avoiding lawsuits and other claims. So what are those laws you have to follow? And more specifically, what are the employer responsibilities for lone worker health and safety?

Defining a Few Terms

Before getting into the employer responsibilities, let’s make sure it’s clear who holds the responsibility. Note that this brief overview isn't meant to replace actually reading and studying the law, only to provide an overview.

Australian law splits responsibility into three loosely hierarchical layers. And as you’ll see, the categories move from broad to narrow. At the top is Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBU). The next two levels are Duty Holder and Officer. What does each of those mean?

A PCBU can be a sole person, say in a self-employed situation. In a larger operation, it could be partners in a business. In the broadest sense, a PCBU is a corporation. For example, if a worker files a claim, they’ll often file it against a company. In that case, the company is the PCBU.

A Duty Holder is anyone who holds a health or safety duty. Their job is to ensure safety procedures and minimize risk. Note that a PCBU can be a Duty Holder. Duty can't be transferred, but it can be assigned. For example, a PCBU on a construction site needs to provide bathroom facilities. But they hire out another group to fulfill that task. The other group is now the Duty Holder for the bathroom facilities, while the PCBU is the "upstream" Duty Holder.

Finally, an Officer is most often a specific person. Once again, an officer could also be PCBU or a Duty Holder. They hold a similar responsibility for health and safety in the workplace as the other titles. An Officer can be liable in an accident, just like a PCBU or Duty Holder.

Confused? Don’t be. This terminology is trying to say that a business has a responsibility and should assign duties to groups and people to ensure health and safety in the workplace.

What are the Employer Responsibilities?

Before we get into the specifics for lone workers, it’s helpful to know the overarching employer responsibilities. And of course, these responsibilities will extend to lone workers.

To quote from WHS guidelines, “A guiding principle of the WHS Act is that all people are given the highest level of health and safety protection from hazards arising from work, so far as is reasonably practicable.”

That’s it! In some ways, the law is fairly open. Thankfully, WHS guidelines explain a little more what “reasonably practicable” means.

 Employers are required to weigh up things like:

  • The likelihood of risk or hazards taking place. In other words, the probability of someone being vulnerable to harm
  • How much harm could be caused if a risk or hazard unfolds
  • How to train workers to have a reasonable understanding of risks and ways to remove or minimise them
  • Ways to actually remove or minimise hazards
  • What it costs to remove decrease hazards

There are also some specific areas of risk that you should make sure are safe as an Australian employer. A big one is the general work environment. Keep it free from hazards and ensure safe entrances and exits to and from the workplace. Another risk is structures or machinery that are hazardous. Likewise, substances and chemicals that could injure someone are a risk.

Employers should also provide access to facilities like restrooms, breakrooms, and lockers and dining areas where appropriate. They should train and inform workers on how to stay safe on the job. Finally, and one particularly important to lone workers, employers should monitor the worker's health and the place of business.

Employer Responsibilities for Lone Workers

Everything mentioned above obviously extends to lone workers. But when they’re not conducting their work in a traditional place of business, how do you ensure their health and safety? 

First, you need to do some due diligence on the risks involved. These could include unsafe work environments or contact with violent and unsafe people. Lone workers often travel more, exposing them to other hazards and risks that an on-site employee might not face. 

Second, with all workers, but especially lone workers, you should have a good idea of their aptitude for the job. Are there any pre-existing health issues that might make their lone work difficult? Is their mental health at a place where they can work in the proposed lone work environment? You should talk with lone workers and a health and safety representative.

Finally, you should create emergency procedures. These could include exit strategies or ways to communicate back to managers or emergency professionals. Remember, as an employer, you’re responsible for monitoring workers and their work environment.

One way to do that is through a lone worker app or wearable, like a watch. These tools allow you to program check-ins and other methods for monitoring. It also lets the worker call in emergencies and give you a visual on their surroundings. Check out a demo today.

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