The main safety challenge that’s posed by a mobile workforce is the variable nature of the locations they are working in.
Unlike an office worker, the potential risks they face are constantly changing as the environment they’re working in changes. This is what makes risk assessment such an essential requirement.
To manage this challenge, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) advises businesses to adopt a five-stage assessment process. Here’s a closer look:
What are the legal requirements of risk assessments?
A general need to carry out risk assessments falls under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. This means that all employers must:
- Identify workplace hazards
- Judge the level of risk
- Take action to eliminate or control risks
The law requires you to ensure that assessments made are ‘suitable and sufficient’ with proper checks made, the relevant people consulted and adequate actions put in place.
The level of detail contained in a risk assessment should be ‘proportionate to the risk and appropriate to the nature of the work’.
For mobile workers, insignificant and routine risks can be ignored. It’s only when an activity or environment significantly alters risks that fresh assessments are needed.
Along with a general assessment, different industry sectors will have their own guidance. For highway operations, assessments are covered by the GG 104 requirements of the DRMB.
How do you assess safety risks for field service workers?
The five-step HSE assessment provides a good place to start when building an effective process.
- What are the hazards?
- Who is at risk?
- How much of a risk is it?
- Document your process
- Review and update
What are the hazards?
What are the tasks your workers are required to do and what are the potential risks they are likely to face? This needs to cover the various activities they do and the locations where they take place.
So typical activities that need to be assessed include:
- Road travel
- Lone working
- Use of kit and equipment
- Interactions with public
- Physical tasks (lifting)
Assessments should take into account the general environments in which field workers operate. Mobile workers should also have the knowledge and training they need to assess risks.
With digital workforce management systems, handheld devices and smartphone apps can be used to integrate real-time assessments into the workflow.
Who is at risk?
For each potential hazard identified, who is at risk? The duty of care is not just for employees but for anyone who could be harmed, such as contractors or members of the public.
This doesn’t mean naming individuals but to generally identify the type of person who’s at risk. The level of risk may also depend on the type of worker and the amount of experience and training they have.
How much of a risk is it?
So you know what the hazards are and who’s at risk. Now, you need to make a judgement on the level of risk posed and what the appropriate action should be.
This should be guided by basic common sense and an understanding of the need to do everything ‘reasonably practicable’ to protect people. It’s a judgement call which balances risks against the cost and time practicalities of control measures.
Ideally, you want to eliminate risks. If that’s not possible then risks need to be controlled to an acceptable level.
Workers need to be a part of this process to identify the most effective solutions and to ensure that any measures taken are not going to create additional hazards.
Practical steps could include:
- Adding or upgrading PPE (Personal Protective Equipment)
- Controlling access to certain environments
- Providing training and supervision
Document your process
It’s a legal requirement to document this process for all businesses with more than five employees. This doesn’t have to be an exhaustive document but a general record of what hazards exist, who’s at risk and what actions you are taking.
The HSE provides a template document to help manage this. Whatever form it takes, the risk assessment document needs to be clear, concise and accessible.
To be accepted as ‘suitable and sufficient’ it needs to show that:
- Effective checks have been made
- You know who is at risk
- You have balanced risk against measures/controls
- You have consulted your workforce
- You have tackled all significant risks
- Any remaining risks are low
Review and update
The risks facing mobile workers are constantly changing so assessments need to be regularly reviewed and updated. Are the actions you have put in place working?
The worst possible way to identify a problem is when accidents or injuries occur. So the object of a review is to identify and tackle any issues before they are allowed to become problems.
But whenever an incident is reported, the circumstances need to be reviewed. What could have been done to prevent it from happening?
The general areas that a review should cover includes:
- Significant changes to the workforce
- New working environments/activities
- Updates to legislation/regulations
- Improved tools/processes/tech
How can tech manage risk assessments?
Real-time tracking and automated processes allowed safety checks and risk assessments to be integrated into a field workers daily routine. MyMobileWorkers makes the enforcement of checks simple with tasks managed on-site via a handheld device.