As an employer, it is your responsibility to ensure the health, safety, and well-being of your employees. It is important to be aware of any laws or regulations in your sector and region that are in place to protect employees. Furthermore, businesses that embrace remote working can reap the rewards of increased productivity and employee satisfaction.
In the United Kingdom, the Health and Safety Executive is responsible for upholding and implementing legislation concerning safety in the workplace. Similarly, the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety is the governmental body that ensures the safety of workplaces in Canada.
As the labour market changes to accommodate a new generation of employees, the way we do business is undergoing a transformation. With an increased number of flexible work options becoming available, employees now have greater freedom to balance their work and personal commitments.
The advantages of remote or flexible employment far outweigh the disadvantages, although they still exist.
One of the difficulties employers face is known as “your duty of care” and this will be the focus of this article. We will look at the legal obligations an employer has in regards to their remote workers, referred to as “lone workers” for the sake of convenience.
That are these people who work alone?
This word describes somebody who does their job duties without constant oversight.
If you do your job independently from the rest of the workforce, whether at home, on the road, or at a coffee shop, you are a “lone worker.”
Work performed by someone in isolation may include:
- Helper programme that exists only in cyberspace.
- Practitioner of the art of medical transcribing.
- Programmer and/or designer of websites.
- Employee of a telephone answering service.
- Consultant on technological issues.
- Itinerary planner.
- One who owns a franchise.
- Coordinator of Social Media
- Individual or organisation that looks for children
- Validation of a Website
- Party organiser
To what extent are you responsible for this situation?
Depending on who you consult, the term “duty of care” can have a range of interpretations. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, responsibility is defined as “a moral or legal obligation to ensure the safety or wellbeing of others”.
The term “duty of care” refers to an employer’s legal obligation to ensure the safety and welfare of their employees (both physically and mentally). This responsibility is outlined in the concept of “duty of care” as outlined by Mintzberg in his five Ps of corporate strategy. This concept places a duty on employers to ensure that their employees are provided with a safe and healthy working environment, with appropriate safeguards in place to protect them from harm.
If you fail to uphold your duty of care, you’ll have to pay fines and other costs, on top of breaking the law.
Employers in Canada are obliged to adhere to the guidelines set out in the Canada Labour Code and the Canada Occupational Health and Safety Regulations. It is essential that employers comply with these regulations to ensure the safety and well-being of their employees.
Relevant criteria for standards include:
Safety from fire
- Carbon monoxide/smoke alarm detectors in appropriate locations.
- A device for putting out fires.
- Means of egress in the event of an emergency.
During an emergency, what should I do?
- The development of a reliable evacuation strategy.
- Having access to first aid equipment on-site.
- Assigning a point of contact in the office in case of a crisis.
The importance of electrical safety
- Verifying that electrical outlets are grounded and not overloaded.
- Including extension cables to avoid overuse.
- Maintaining a healthy airflow around electrical components.
Bill C-45 has created new legal obligations for employers to uphold occupational health and safety standards and has introduced fines for infractions that result in injuries. However, at this time, there is no specific federal legislation that is in place to monitor the safety of lone employees.
In contrast, it is important to note that there are additional regulations governing home and remote working in several Canadian provinces. It is a requirement to carry out risk assessments and implement measures to reduce or remove any potential risks, regardless of the detail and wording of the rules.
There are ten jurisdictions in Canada where just one law is in effect.
- All businesses operating in the province of British Columbia, with the exception of mines and workplaces that are licenced by the federal government, must comply with the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations (OHSR) set out by WorkSafeBC.
- All employers in Alberta are legally required to undertake a hazard assessment, and to put in place measures to mitigate potential risks. Furthermore, employers should establish a reliable and effective means of communication, in the event of an emergency or unforeseen circumstance.
- In the 2023 revisions to Quebec’s Occupational Health and Safety Act and regulations, Item (322) was incorporated in order to address the issue of lone workers. It was emphasised that monitoring should be conducted in order to ensure the safety of those who are working alone.
- According to the Saskatchewan Occupational Health and Safety Act 1996, employers have a duty to carry out thorough inspections to identify and reduce risks to employees as much as possible. Additionally, employers should ensure their remote workers have regular contact with each other.
- In Manitoba, employers are required by the province’s Workplace Safety and Health Act and Regulations to devise and implement effective safety protocols for staff who work alone or in remote locations. It is essential that these procedures are followed to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all employees.
- Neither the Province of Ontario nor the Province of Nova Scotia have yet introduced legislation to protect lone workers, however, both provinces are obligated to ensure that employers provide “appropriate” safety measures for employees working alone under the Occupational Health and Safety Acts in both provinces. Whilst the Health and Safety Act in Nova Scotia does not contain any specific provisions for lone workers, it does include a general duty clause requiring employers to provide a safe working environment for their employees.
- The Yukon Occupational Health and Safety Act stipulates that all employers must take reasonable steps to ensure the safety of their employees in situations where there is a potential for serious injury or a lack of help in the event of an accident. This includes situations which may pose a significant risk of incapacitating injury or where the employee may not be able to find assistance if something unfortunate were to occur.
- In 2023, employers in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut received guidance on how to secure the health and safety of lone employees with the introduction of a code of practice. This code outlines the concept of lone working, as well as providing direction on how to evaluate potential risks and how to operate safely when working alone.
- In 2009, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador introduced amendments to the Occupational Health and Safety Act in order to provide additional protection to lone workers. These amendments stipulate that organisations must put in place suitable protocols for regularly checking on lone workers. This ensures that lone employees are adequately supported, monitored and protected in their working environment.
- Since 1992, New Brunswick has had a policy in place to ensure the safety of workers who are required to work alone at any time. Organisations must meet the requirements of Section 51 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act in order to ensure the wellbeing of their employees.
Safe practises for lone workers
When it comes to ensuring the safety of lone employees, the most effective approach is to provide them with the necessary training. This will ensure that remote workers and their employers in the office can work productively and efficiently. As lone workers are not in a traditional office environment, they must be equipped with the skills and knowledge to work independently. This includes understanding computer science, network security, and other related topics. Additionally, employees who are handling sensitive data must be trained on data protection laws to ensure they are compliant with the relevant regulations.
It is essential for employees to be aware of how to appropriately configure and manage their workstations, as well as how to utilise display screen equipment (DSE) and other tools without jeopardising their health and safety, particularly with regards to their eyesight and posture.
It is essential that your lone worker policy contains clear instructions for employees to follow in the event of an accident or near-miss. This should include guidance on how to report the incident, as well as contact information for local emergency services, should they be required.
Employees need training to make sure they understand their responsibilities and know how to do them in the absence of their managers and coworkers.
In addition to these measures, it may be useful to learn strategies for dealing with stress and resolving problems in the face of uncertainty.
Some further suggestions for the safety of your solitary workers are as follows:
- Planning tasks in such a way as to avoid putting workers in harm’s way.
- The process of assessing workplace dangers and locating probable hazards.
- Educating and instructing workers properly on health and safety issues.
- Making sure everything from the desk to the chair to the electrical setup is in working order.
- We are keen to explore the views of our remote employees regarding their jobs and working environment. We would like to gain an insight into their thoughts on the tasks they undertake and any potential issues that may arise. We would very much appreciate their feedback on this matter.
- In order to ensure that our workforce is kept up to date with necessary information, and to ensure that our staff members are accounted for at all times, it is essential that we create a reliable system for checking in and out. To maintain consistent communication with our employees, we should ensure that regular updates on relevant matters are issued; this could be done via email, text, or other appropriate methods. Furthermore, we should consider implementing visible or audible methods for keeping track of our employees; for example, we could install a timeclock, or use a barcode system.
The responsibility of care is not something that should be addressed “once and for all;” rather, it should be an ongoing effort.
You should examine your lone worker policy often to make sure it reflects the latest best practises and relevant laws.
It is essential to bear in mind the necessity of regularly assessing risks. This is especially pertinent when there have been significant alterations to the working environment.
If you’re looking to recruit new employees, then look no further than Works. We handle every aspect of the human resources process, ensuring your compliance with all relevant laws and regulations. This is an incredibly efficient and effective way of finding the best people for your organisation. So, if you need to hire, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us today.