August 16, 2017

Lone workers and NZ’s New General Risk and Workplace Management regulations

Every business in New Zealand must now comply with the new regulations on General Risk and Workplace Management. Employers across the country have been actively working to ensure they are compliant, but there are challenges, including applying the regulations to lone workers. What impact do the new regulations have on your business if you have people who work alone?

The simple answer is you have the same responsibility to them as you do to all other workers in your organisation. Here are the main things you need to know, particularly in relation to emergency plans and how you respond in emergency situations.

The New Regulations

The New Zealand Health and Safety at Work (General Risk and Workplace Management) Regulations 2016 support NZ's main health and safety legislation which is known as the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015.

In general, the regulations mean business owners and the self-employed must ensure workplaces are without risks and don't impact on the health and safety of any individual. The act refers to PCBUs - Persons Conducting a Business or Undertaking. In other words, the regulations cover every business, business owner, self-employed person, and contractor.

The regulations are wide-ranging and include:

  • A requirement to engage and consult with all workers who may be impacted by any health and safety issue. The definition for this is broad and is one of the cornerstones of the new regulations. In addition, it requires businesses and the self-employed to consult with other businesses or other self-employed people if there is a potential health and safety issue. The easiest example of this is the construction industry where the main contractor would have to consult with sub-contractors.
  • Provide a suitable workplace that ensures there are no health and safety risks as well as ensuring the welfare of the worker is cared for. This covers everything from providing lighting and ventilation to providing suitable toilet facilities.
  • Provide training on health and safety risks
  • Provide personal protective equipment where appropriate
  • And more

Lone Workers and the New Regulations

As already mentioned, all parts of the regulations apply to lone workers. For example, they must be consulted with, you must ensure their workplace is safe, you must provide training, and you must provide personal protective equipment, where necessary.

One of the more difficult regulations to comply with, however, is having an effective emergency plan.

Emergency Plans

One of the requirements of the new General Risk and Workplace Management regulations is that all businesses should have emergency plans in place. The regulations outline what these plans should include, as well as specifically stating there must be comprehensive emergency plans for people who work alone.

Your emergency plans should outline how individuals and the company should respond to an emergency, including having evacuation procedures, where appropriate. Crucially for lone worker situations, the following also applies:

  • You must outline how you will notify the emergency services in the event of an emergency with a lone worker
  • There must be procedures that allow senior management (i.e. those responsible for coordinating the emergency response) to stay in communication with all workers, including lone workers
  • There must be procedures in place for providing assistance to lone workers in the event of an emergency, including providing medical assistance

In a traditional business setting, this is relatively straightforward. Examples include an office, retail outlet, or manufacturing facility where multiple workers are in a single location, often with senior management present.

What happens if you have lone workers, however? How will you know if there is an emergency if the worker cannot contact you with traditional methods? Maybe there is no coverage on their mobile phone so the worker can't report an injury. Maybe they are unconscious or are being threatened by someone, such as someone robbing them. In these situations, how can you properly keep your workers safe while also adhering to the General Risk and Workplace Management regulations?

Adhering to the Regulations

In most cases, the easiest, most practical, and the most cost-effective solution is implementing personal safety devices. Other solutions, such as regular contact procedures, leave workers exposed to risk for long periods of time before they must check-in again. Buddy systems may also not be appropriate in your organisation, and mobile phone-based solutions may not be adequate. In fact, in interpretive guidelines for the new regulations, Worksafe, NZ's health and safety regulator, says: "A communication system that has gaps in coverage or cannot be used in an emergency is unlikely to be effective."

Personal safety devices overcome these problems. The features can include:

  • Panic buttons
  • GPS tracking so you can locate lone workers even when they are unable to communicate
  • Man down inactivity detectors
  • Audio receivers so the lone worker can quickly let managers listen to what is happening at their location
  • Two-way messaging capabilities

It is important to remember the points outlined in the new regulations are, as the name suggests, regulations, not guidelines. You must, therefore, implement everything. In relation to lone workers, personal safety devices will help you do this.

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