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Mobile Workforce – Essential Guide to Working Safely

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writer and researcher BrightGreen PR

Julian Jackson is a writer whose interests encompass business and technology, cryptocurrencies, energy and the environment, as well as photography and film. His portfolio is here:...

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  • Jun 23, 2022
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Utilities necessarily need a mobile workforce. Modern techniques and devices like smartphones and tablets facilitate mobile working. Some jobs are unfortunately dangerous: repairing lines in a blizzard or fighting wildfires. However utilities have a reasonably good record for injuries and fatalities at work. The Bureau of Labor Statistics recorded 28 fatalities and a rate of injury and illness of 1.5 cases per 100 workers in 2020. That is less than many other industries, but any way to improve the safety of the workforce should be a priority.

As mobile workers are often out of sight of management, possibly working alone in remote locations, or hazardous environments, there are “best practices” to reduce risk to the people who make our industry function. With the majority of accidents and injuries involving off-site workers, safety should be a critical focus for field service management.

 

What Makes this a Challenge?

To create an effective approach requires a firm understanding of the unique difficulties that are faced when trying to ensure field worker safety. These are the main issues:

Communications may be limited. Even now, with excellent cell coverage in many places, there are still locations where there are “no comms”.

Hazardous, insecure environments: dealing with problems in substations, lines and other malfunctioning equipment is by its nature a task which can create a wide range of potential risks.

When there are teams, workers can look out for each other. That key safety element is lost when field workers are operating individually. When employees are in remote areas and facing hazardous situations, it magnifies the dangers they have to contend with.

 

The basics of risk assessment for mobile and field service workers
  • Identify the hazards

  • Assess workers at risk

  • Evaluate risks and decide controls

  • Create a safety plan

  • Review, monitor and update plans

 

The wide range of field service operations makes a rigorous approach to risk assessment an essential element of safety management. While you cannot eliminate every risk, an effective strategy will protect employees as far as is “reasonably practicable” against any potential hazards they can face.

Assessments should be carried out before field workers start any kind of task where there’s a risk of injury or ill-health. Knowledge and training needs to be provided to ensure that those carrying out assessments are properly able to identify risks.

 

1. Identify all hazards

A hazard is anything which could harm a worker and the ‘risk’ is the chances of this happening. Each task and environment that a mobile worker encounters during their job needs to be assessed to identify dangers and the relative risk that’s those dangers involve.

 

2. Assess workers at risk

Once the hazards have been identified, you need to assess who is most at risk and how. Dangers may be higher for new workers than for experienced employees. They are definitely higher for older workers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Risk assessments should not neglect potential hazards to the public.

 

3. Evaluate risks and decide controls

Once these hazards have been evaluate and their risks assessed, managers can start creating programs to eliminate or minimize the issue. An effective strategy requires a careful balance between the level of risk posed and reasonable controls that can be put in place.

 

4. Create a safety plan

Management will need to create and implement a regularly-updated safety plan, and ensure that it is available to the workers who need it.

 

5. Review, monitor and update plans

Monitoring will be needed to make sure controls are effective and safety practices are followed. The dynamic nature of field services means that these assessments need to be regularly reviewed and updated.

Training and knowledge plays a crucial role in field worker safety. It helps to ensure that employees understand safety protocols and have the skills and knowledge that’s required to adhere to them. So a safety training program should be maintained, both for new hires, as well as regular safety and risk updates for more experienced workers.

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jun 23, 2022

It's fascinating to watch how rapidly this area of the workforce is developing, given the new technologies that unlock new potential every day 

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