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Employer’s responsibility when employees are working alone

An employer’s responsibility when employees are working alone

What onus is on employers to protect staff who are working alone? Employment lawyers Scott Wilson and Summer Pringle, of Duncan Cotterill, look at this issue.

The safety of employees who are working alone or travelling to work at unusual times is under the spotlight.

This follows the killing of Radio New Zealand journalist Phillip Cottrell in central Wellington about 5.30am on Saturday when he was walking home from work and the death last month of a security guard who was on duty alone at an Auckland constructionsite.

These tragedies highlight the importance for all employers to evaluate whether they have employees working alone and what should be done to protect them from harm, including violence.

New Zealand does not have specific working alone laws but employers have a broad duty to take all practicable steps to ensure the safety of employees while at work.

Working alone is considered to be a hazard and employers have a legal obligation to manage hazards at work. This means that, in general, employers should:

• Carry out hazard assessments specific to working alone situations.
• Create or update policies and procedures to eliminate or reduce the risks associated with working alone. This could include a verbal or visual check-in procedure at certain times.
• Provide an effective means of communication for employees working alone in case of emergency, accident or illness.
• Provide training to employees who will be working alone.

While there is no legal definition of ‘working alone’ in New Zealand, this shouldn’t deter employers from effecting working alone policies and procedures. And although no prosecutions have occurred against employers in New Zealand, a Canadian company was recently charged and fined after a female security guard working alone was attacked and raped. In Quebec, working alone means where a worker performs a task alone in an isolated environmentwhere it is impossible for him/her to request assistance.

There is no doubt that an employee’s exposure to accidents, injury, illness and violence is heightened when working alone.

The key message for employers is: consider whether working alone policies and procedures need to be implemented or updated to help keep staff safe and to reduce the risks of working alone.

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