The very nature of their jobs means that field service employees are lone workers and safety risks are not confined to hazardous workplaces. FSN Editor Sharon Clancy looks at some of the strategies for making ensuring your employees stay safe.
Many service employees are working alone or in environments that make them vulnerable. The potential safety risks are present not just in hazardous workplaces such as oil installations or construction sites; workers can be at risk working unsocial hours in office building or on emergency call outs to domestic properties, too, for example.
Safety policies and guidelines should reflect the specific risks of mobile workers, demonstrate that steps have been taken to minimise those risks and that management systems are in place to monitor compliance with safety rules.
For mobile service technicians, those risks include driving their vehicles between jobs. “If people in your company use vehicles for work, then you have a legal responsibility to ensure their safety, points out Giles Margerison, UK sales director, TomTom Telematics. “The law is really clear if someone is driving for business purposes, regardless of who provides the vehicle – whether it’s their own vehicle, hire, rented, leased, bought, or bought by the company. Once you have given someone an instruction for work, whether it’s just popping down the shops for a pint of milk or to an appointment or a job or a site, you are responsible for their safety and their behaviour.”
Duty of Care: legal obligations
Employer's legal obligation on Duty-of-Care and Health and Safety will vary from country-to-country. In the UK, for example, the 2007 Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act introduced in addition to corporate liability the concept of personal liability of directors and board members for any proven negligence, part of an EU-wide initiative to improve worker safety.
For service organisations there are two key areas of duty of care...
For service organisations there are two key areas of duty of care: one is lone worker protection; the other is risk management of inappropriate of employee behaviour.
Lone worker monitoring
Any mobile application or device by default offers more protection to the mobile worker than a paper system where there is no contact with the office between jobs or even all day. Mobile workers equipped with telephones can also be tracked using cell ID.
In difficult or hostile environments managers need confirmation at regular intervals that the employee is safe and well. Some lone-worker systems are linked to 24-hour monitoring centres - individuals who find themselves in a dangerous situation simply press a red alert button on their device. This additional protection for lone workers can be a user buy-in when selling a technology switch to mobile workers, especially in heavily-unionised sectors.
In less dangerous situations, the risk assessment may be that compliance can be demonstrated by tracking personnel around a site, setting up pre-set intervals when a response is required. The interval can be set automatically and varied between locations and tasks.
The latest technology even removes the onus on the employee to confirm they are safe...
"It's considered more reliable because the monitoring process starts automatically when the worker arrives on site or at a particular area of the site or building - there's no need for them to send a message to confirm this ," comments Paul Ridden, managing director for Skillweb. "Alarms can be raised if a worker fails to arrive at or leave a customer site or complete a task. Specific safety compliance information for that task or site can be incorporated in the RFID tags. "
Service organisations employ engineers and technicians, not drivers. However, that does not mean that you can ignore their behaviour at the wheel when driving between jobs. Potentially unsafe driving behaviour should be part of a risk assessment strategy.
Meeting your Duty of Care does not need to be a burden, points out, Margerison. . “It just requires processes to be in place that monitors aspects of your mobile workforce, giving you the data you need so you can foresee any issues."This is not as hard as it sounds with modern fleet management and telematics systems, and you might also be surprised by the bottom line benefits it could bring to your business, he goes on. “The use of technology really helps because we can manage driver behaviour. Other methods can be used, of course, but technology makes that really very simple, and gives you the right data when you need it.
Unsafe driving behaviour should be part of a risk assessment strategy.
Basic driver behaviour telematics data such as speed and harsh deceleration can even be captured from a mobile device with a GPS and an accelerometer or with a plug-in device - there's no need for a vehicle installation.
The result is a safer, more efficient workforce and a significantly reduced risk profile. Margerison points out that the ability to demonstrate driver improvements to an insurer could also mean a reversal of the current trend of higher premium costs.
Keep it simple
Skillweb’s Paul Ridden thinks awareness of risks to mobile workers still has some way to go to penetrate those lower-skilled service jobs typically found in facilities management companies. “With the introduction of the Living Wage, those workers are going to cost more, so ensuring, they are as productive as possible, will be key to maintaining profit levels.”
Technology costs have also been a barrier, but smartphones make deploying mobile apps to these workers affordable. Simple apps can help them complete the tasks in the right order and safely. You can prove where they are but you can also use it to monitor their safety. Are cleaners using hazardous chemicals in a safe manner. Using appropriate safety equipment can mean something as simple as using rubber gloves when using cleaning chemicals.”
Monitoring the safety of these employees can have other benefits, he points out Monitoring that only trained employees are allowed to use equipment such as motorised floor polishers correctly, also helps you keep tabs on asset utilisation, he points point.
Geoff Ball, MD of Matrix Telematics said: “The definition of a lone worker has changed dramatically. From social workers to delivery drivers, postmen to pest control; lone workers make up almost a quarter of the UK’s working population, but the nature of their job leaves them open to a unique set of risks that employers need to be aware of.
“While most lone workers will hopefully never experience any problems, to have the peace of mind that there’s someone just at the other end of the line should they need it is a big reassurance for employees and a sensible precaution for employers to take.”
Lone worker monitoring doesn’t have to be complicated, says Ridden.“Even proactively status checks can be done without it seeming intrusive or Big Brother. You can send a message, and all the worker does is to tap in a pin number to confirm they are OK. Workers do appreciate that it is for their safety. From the manager’s viewpoint, its more reliable than waiting for a remote worker to call in at hourly intervals to confirm they are OK and its documented evidence that health and safety policies have been adhered to.