The most dangerous jobs are those that combine physical tasks with field operations. This is highlighted by the fatality rates for UK industry sectors which are tracked by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
The figures for 2017/2018 show the five industries with the highest number of work related deaths to be:
- Construction (38)
- Agriculture (29)
- Manufacturing (15)
- Transportation (15)
- Waste and recycling (12)
It’s a consequence of the unique safety challenges that are faced when managing fieldworkers. There are a number of factors which contribute to increased risks and the foundation for any effective safety strategy has to be an understanding of these issues.
The main challenges with field worker safety are:
- Limited communication
- Road travel
- 'Us' versus 'them' mentality
- Dynamic work environment
- Physical activity
- Solo working
All of the main safety challenges posed by field operations are rooted in the same fundamental problem - a lack of communication. It’s the physical separation between line managers, supervisors and field operatives which magnifies the health and safety risks.
This is a particular struggle for those organisations that are still using traditional management communications with information shared via a combination of paperwork, calls, texts and emails. It makes it virtually impossible to accurately monitor the real-time status of employees.
It creates an environment in which safety issues can easily remain hidden. Often, it’s only when a safety breach has occurred that system failures are exposed. It’s to tackle poor communications problem that there’s an increasing shift to cloud-based management solutions.
The Department of Transport estimate that more than a quarter of all road traffic accidents in the UK involve somebody who’s driving for work purposes. With so much of fieldworkers’ time likely to be spent on the road and travelling between locations, it represents a major safety risk.
An effective strategy has to shield employees from the potential dangers that are caused by a competitive business environment where there can be constant pressures to meet tight deadlines. Unrealistic work schedules and stressed out drivers creates a dangerous combination.
‘Us’ versus ‘them’ mentality
Closely related to poor communication is the problem of ‘us’ versus ‘them’ attitudes taking root within a workforce. Field service businesses are particularly prone to this because of the separation between managers and mobile workers.
This affects safety as it can create employee ‘push back’ against safety training and policy compliance. Rather than safety policy being viewed as something which is designed to protect workers’ welfare, it’s treated as unwanted ‘red tape’ from above.
Dynamic work environment
The ability to assess risk and introduce control measures is a fundamental part of safety management. The challenge for a field service operation is that the working environments are constantly changing as fieldworkers move between jobs and locations.
While line managers can access the typical risks that an employee may face, fieldworkers must also have the knowledge and training required to assess risks ‘on the job’. Making sure that both of these elements are maintained over time requires constant vigilance.
It’s an area where digital systems are helping to make a major difference with management systems able to seamlessly integrate safety checks into workflow. Fieldworkers can provide real-time safety feedback on locations via a handheld device.
Whether it’s carrying out road maintenance or servicing a boiler, the job of a mobile worker involves a certain amount of physical activity. This creates a whole range of health and safety considerations to be assessed and controlled.
The risks can range from pulled muscles and repetitive strain injury to the life threatening dangers of working with machinery and falls from height, which is the number one cause of workplace fatalities.
Safety issues that pose a minimal risk when an employee is working alongside colleagues can become a major hazards when they’re operating alone. This could be a fieldworker who receives an injury in a remote location without mobile coverage or it could be the dangers posed to a solo workers who’s confronted by a hostile member of the public.
Along with the physical dangers, there are also the mental wellbeing of employees to consider. Solo working can cause fieldworkers to feel isolated and demotivated, resulting in safety practices being ignored and unnecessary risks being taken.
To see effective safety equipment, apps and technology to better protect your mobile workers view our field worker safety guide..