How to Protect Your Employees Working in Remote Areas

Every employee has the right to a safe working place. This right remains wherever the worker is, including in remote areas. 

A remote area is generally an area that is difficult to access in several ways. 

Firstly, it can refer to a place that isn’t easily accessible by vehicle, such as mines or offshore. Secondly, it could refer to rural locations, such as the countryside or desert. Although these areas have road access, it is a considerable distance from the nearest hospital, police station, or other team members. 

In other words, if an employee is in trouble in a remote area, it would take a considerable time for help to arrive. This is why employers must ensure they have strong measures in place to protect employees who work in remote areas. 

In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about protecting employees working in remote locations.

Understanding the Risks of Working in Remote Areas

When you have employees working in a remote environment, you need to make sure that all parties are aware of the hazards involved to make sure you can mitigate the risks. 

Here, we will list the most common hazards of working in remote areas. Keeping in mind that help is far away in a remote location, all of these hazards pose a higher risk of danger for workers. 

1. Working at height

Working at heights is defined as being any part of a person’s body that is elevated more than 4 feet above the ground or floor. It is one of the leading causes of occupational fatalities and serious injuries.

Workers undertake jobs working from height in a variety of sectors and industries. The most common types of jobs that involve working at height are general construction, powerline technicians, and window cleaners. All of these jobs have the potential to be conducted in remote locations, increasing an already high risk factor. 

Other types of jobs requiring working from height that are more likely to be in remote locations can include work in agriculture, forestry, and fishing.

2. Acts of violence

The HSE defines acts of violence as “any incident in which a person is abused, threatened or assaulted in circumstances relating to their work.” When it comes to acts of violence in remote locations the risks for escalation are increased due to a lack of bystanders.

In 2019/2020, the HSE estimated 688,000 incidents of violence at work, encompassing both assaults and threats. Those who face higher risk of encountering violence entail those who work in security, on night-shift, or in retail.

The risks are even higher if they are lone workers. According to statistics from the British Safety Council’s crime survey, as many as 150 lone workers are attacked either physically or verbally every day in the UK.

3. Extreme weather & natural disasters

The extreme desert heat, cold winter weather, thick fog, and torrential rain are just a few examples of extreme weather. The list of hazards which extreme weather can cause are almost endless; from dehydration to hypothermia, slippery or icy roads, low visibility, and more.

Extreme weather increases risk for workers in remote locations for two key reasons. Firstly, working in remote locations tends to involve outdoor work without indoor protection from extreme weather. Secondly, extreme weather can increase the risk of an accident. For remote workers, not only is help far away if an accident happens, but bystanders are also less likely to be around to call for help.

These two reasons also increase the risk for workers if there is a natural disaster, such as earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, tsunamis, and avalanches. A natural disaster can injure or trap remote workers in confined spaces. As the workers are in a remote location that is far or difficult to access it becomes even more difficult to establish contact and quickly rescue them.

While these are the most obvious environmental hazards, you should also be aware of these other types of environmental hazards that can affect your remote and lone workers.

4. Exposure to carcinogens, mutagens and biological agents

The nature of a remote location job can often involve work in old buildings and outdoor locations, working in closed spaces such as sewers and mines, or involve exposure to animals. All these situations can make workers in remote locations more susceptible to chemical or biological exposure. The effects can have a wide array of long-term health consequences. 

forestry-technician-working-in-remote-areas

Here are some of the top carcinogens, mutagens and biological agents that remote workers could encounter in the workplace:

  1. Asbestos fibres, which can cause occupational mesothelioma or lung cancer
  2. Wood dust, which can cause cancer of the nasal cavity or sinuses
  3. Contaminated syringe needle
  4. Animal bites
  5. Legionella bacteria
  6. Blood borne viruses
  7. Zoonoses (diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans)
  8. Pandemics

5. Mental health

One of the areas often overlooked is the mental health of employees. While mental health can affect any employee, those who work alone and/or in remote locations face a higher risk. According to studies by the British Occupational Health Research Foundation:

  1. Farmers and farmworkers in the UK account for the largest number of suicides, which is usually associated with mental illness, than any other occupational group.
  2. Remote area medics are exposed to a number of distinct occupational stressors that could increase the risk of depression.
  3. Up to 64% of lone workers face physiological distress that can impact mental health.

While these are the most common hazards associated with working in remote locations, it is not an exhaustive list. However, it can serve as a good starting point when conducting a risk assessment for your employees. 

Recommendations to Protect Employees Working in Remote Areas

Once you have conducted a risk assessment, you can move onto the next steps of mitigating the risks. Here are some general recommendations and resources for further reading. 

1. Regularly conduct health and safety training and protocol.
Based on the hazards you have identified, your responsibility as an employer is to train your workers and take preventive measures to protect their health and safety. 

Here are some resources you can use for further reading.

  1. The Ultimate Guide to Lone Working Safety
  2. Working at Height Regulations: Everything Employers Need to Know
  3. How to Protect Employees Working on the Night Shift
  4. How to Protect Your Lone Workers in Retail
  5. 5 Easy Ways to Protect Employees Returning to Work This Winter
  6. Working Alone Can Seriously Impact Your Mental Health - Here's How to Safeguard Your Lone Workers
  7. Making Lone Worker Protection a Priority in Your Health and Safety Review

2. Treat workers in remote areas like a lone worker.
Even though remote workers may work in teams, just like lone workers, it can be just as difficult for them to communicate for help during an emergency. 

This can be due to working in low signal areas such as forests, offshore, or underground mines. It can also be due to acts of violence or natural disasters that make it difficult for the entire remote team to call for outside help.

Thus, treating your remote workers as if they were lone workers—from conducting lone working risk assessments to providing lone worker safety solutions—is a critical mindset that can protect them from the high-risk work they face every single day.

How Lone Working Solutions are Advantageous for Workers in Remote Locations

One of the biggest advantages of using lone working solutions for your employees who work in remote locations is that it boasts features for easy communication during danger and in low-signal areas. 

As an example, Vatix’s Safe Pro Device is equipped with:

  1. A multi-network SIM card: The device uses a special multi-network SIM card to send location data and make voice calls. The SIM operates on several of the UK’s largest mobile networks and is 2G enabled to maximise signal coverage. This makes it possible to connect with a monitoring team during emergencies, even in low signal environments.

  2. Fall detection: This feature alerts the monitoring team when an impact is detected so help can be sent immediately. An impact could be caused by becoming unconscious or immobile due to falls from height, slips, trips or falls due to extreme weather, exposure to biological or chemical agents, or natural disasters.

    Since remote workers are typically a considerable distance from the nearest medical care or are in areas with low accessibility, time is of essence. The sooner an emergency is detected, the faster emergency help can be sent to rescue or aid a worker in trouble.

  3. A one-press, discreet SOS button: This feature is useful during violent situations with the potential to physically harm employees. With just the push of a button, a discreet alarm will alert the monitoring team that the person or team is in danger.

  4. GPS location: This feature can help locate an injured worker who is immobile, unconscious, or unable to communicate. Since speed is an essence during an emergency, being able to cut down the time to reach an injured employee can be the difference between life and death.

  5. Connects to our Protector platform: Protector is our cloud-based incident reporting & 24/7 monitored lone worker safety solution. When a lone worker device sends out an alarm indicating a worker is in danger, our 24/7 monitoring team or your in-house workers can respond right away with the response or aid needed. For injured workers that are far away or difficult to access in remote locations, this immediate response could be life-saving. 

Conclusion

Workers who work in remote locations face numerous dangers that can be difficult, or even impossible, to control. This doesn’t mean you should leave things to chance and cross your fingers that everything will be okay. It is still your responsibility as an employer to take care of your employees’ safety in the best possible way. 

Lone worker devices and monitoring systems, such as our Safe Pro device and Protector platform, have become a trusted and industry-standard platform to protect workers in remote locations. It also helps boost their mental health because employees are assured that someone has always got their back—no matter how far away they are from other team members. 

To try out these industry-trusted solutions in your organisation, click here to get a free trial of our Safe Pro device and the Protector Platform

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