Legal Duties

There is no legal requirement indicating that mobile working and working alone must not happen. However, a great deal depends upon the Risk Assessment which should be undertaken as part of broad duties.

Federal Safety law the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act) states that:.

“Employers are responsible for providing a safe and healthful workplace. In addition Employers must also comply with the General Duty Clause of the OSH Act, which requires employers to keep their workplace free of serious recognized hazards.”
“Managers and Supervisors are additionally responsible for:(excerpt)”
  • taking all reported incidents of workplace violence seriously;
  • investigating all acts of violence, threat, and similar disruptive behavior in a timely fashion and taking the necessary action(s);
  • being cognizant of situations that have the potential to produce violent behavior and promptly addressing them with all concerned parties;

The DOL Workplace Violence Program Appendices describes that:

“The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) establishes standards for maintaining safe work environments. The standards require that each employer furnish to each of its employees, a place of employment that is free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.”

The definition of workplace is a key aspect in the current legislation as in the current model this is frequently interpreted as a physical location like a central office, hospital or factory building.

On April 2, 2015 OSHA released new guidelines on protecting healthcare and social service workers from workplace violence. This specific guidance issued around Workplace violence is of particular note as it makes a specific distinction of alternate settings of workplace violence including in it:

  • Community Care settings including community-based residential facilities and group homes;
  • Field work settings including home healthcare workers or social workers who make home visits.

Now with recent citations , OSHA are clearly defining the way they view the “workplace” to include protection for those working out of the office. Instead of the location being important, the key requirement is that an organization: protects its employees from life-threatening hazards of workplace violence.  This is confirmed in the DOL report on workplace conditions which when referring to the guidelines issued stipulates that :

“These recommendations adapt the generic safety program approach to these occupations and workplaces.”

In addition to this, following 18 fatalities in 2 years OSHA reviewed the law surrounding working alone in shipyards with the inclusion of some control measures which may have far reaching implications for all lone workers, not simply those employed in shipyards.

Specifically this centers around:

The inclusion of the definitions of:

Isolated location:

an area where employees are working alone or with little assistance from others due to the type, time, or location of their work. Such locations can include remote locations or other work areas where employees are not in close proximity to others.

Intervals of Accountability:

Employers, or their representative, must check on workers at regular intervals or at a frequency that is tailored to the specific job being performed to ensure the safety and health of workers.

Means of Verification:

Employers must account for workers by sight or verbal communication.

All of these areas indicate clearly that OSHA’s changing position to include both alternate settings of the workplace and stringent safety checks for known at risk professions will be a driving factor to those organizations seeking to establish their responsibilities towards their workers before the unthinkable happens.

Adoption of a robust series of risk assessments are the first steps in identifying the risks faced by those working alone, in the field or in the community.

Talk to GuardianMPS to find out more about how we can help organizations like yours to protect your work alone workers.

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