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Lone working legislation in New Zealand

5 min read

Lone working legislation in New Zealand

For many organisations, lone working increases productivity, flexibility and allows businesses to operate on a wider scale. However, despite this, there are a number of risks that pose a threat to lone working staff. Lone workers do not have access to immediate help should an accident occur, which often makes their roles more dangerous than office-based jobs. If a lone worker suffers a fall, is attacked by an assailant or has a medical accident and is unable to call for help, they could be seriously harmed.

So how can you ensure that your lone working staff are protected whilst at work? In this article, we’ll discuss the main risks and hazards associated with lone working, the Health and Safety legislation in New Zealand and some different scenarios where lone working may be considered unsafe.

What is classed as lone working?

Lone working is when work activities are carried out without the direct and immediate support of supervisors or colleagues. To put it simply, if an employee cannot be seen or heard by a colleague, they are lone working, whether that is for all or part of their working day.

Is it legal to work alone in New Zealand?

It is not against the law to work alone in New Zealand. Working alone is completely legal and in most cases it is safe to do so. However, a risk assessment should be carried out on lone working activities so employers can assess and mitigate any potential dangers to their staff. 

Does the law differ across New Zealand?

No. In April 2016 New Zealand passed the Health and Safety Act (2015) which is over-arching safety legislation for the whole country. It also brought into force a single regulator in 2013 – WorkSafe New Zealand. 

What is the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015?

The Health and Safety at Work Act (2015), abbreviated to HSWA, is the health and safety law in place in New Zealand. 

WorkSafe New Zealand states that “The main purpose of HSWA is to provide a balanced framework to secure the health and safety of workers and workplaces. 

A guiding principle of HSWA is that workers and other persons should be given the highest level of protection against harm to their health, safety, and welfare from work risks as is reasonably practicable”. 

According to Jon Harper-Slade, General Manager of Skills and Competency for Construction Health and Safety NZ Trust (CHASNZ) “New Zealand’s 2015 legislation is goal setting; has broad coverage; establishes a general duty for employers to look after people’s health, safety and welfare, and manage the risks they create; and places duties on workers to take reasonable care and to follow instructions. 

The Act also gives officers of businesses (those with decision-making autonomy) specific, personal responsibilities – and liability – for carrying out due diligence. “It means that if you sit on the board, you are responsible and liable for checking that the organisation is meeting its duties”.

WorkSafe New Zealand have produced at video outlining the requirements of the Health and Safety Act 2015 

What is WorkSafe New Zealand?

WorkSafe is New Zealand’s primary workplace health and safety regulator. They have three main functions – providing regulatory confidence, harm prevention and system leadership. 

What is the law on lone working?

A lone working employee is still subject to all the requirements stated within the Health and Safety at Work Act (2015). As working alone can put an employee at higher risk due to not being under direct supervision in an emergency, it is especially important to ensure that any isolated workers are risk assessed, provided with adequate safety equipment and communicated with regularly.

In section 21 of the HSWA, managing risks associated with remote or isolated work, it states that businesses must manage, in accordance with the regulations, the risks to the health and safety of a worker who performs remote or isolated work.

The regulations state that the employer must provide a system of work that includes effective communication with the worker.

Employment New Zealand also recommends that lone working employees should have an effective means of getting help quickly in an emergency and maintain regular contact with another person (e.g. another worker) or, if regular contact is impractical, they should check in with another person at regular intervals. 

Alongside this, employers should also implement their own regulations to help ensure the safety of their lone workers. 

These could include: 

  • Conducting thorough lone worker risk assessments
  • Producing a written health and safety policy and ensuring all employees understand it
  • Taking steps to reduce or eliminate risk in order to create a safe working environment
  • Providing information, instructions, lone worker training and supervision where appropriate
  • Regularly reviewing and improving upon lone worker risk assessments and policies

Can employers legally ask someone to work a night shift alone?

Employers can legally require one person to work overnight alone. Security guards regularly monitor buildings alone throughout the night, whilst other roles such as hotel receptionists or petrol station attendants may work alone out of hours. Employees who work in these roles may be seen as easy targets for threats, such as theft or violence, and extra precautions should be put in place.

Is it legal for an apprentice to work alone?

It is legal for an apprentice to work alone if it is safe to do so. Employers have the same responsibilities to apprentices as they do any other employee. Therefore, they hold a primary responsibility for the health and safety of the apprentice and are required to carry out risk assessments and manage any potential threats.

Are you allowed to work alone in a factory?

Working alone in a factory is also allowed. However, the job role being carried out alone in the factory should be taken into consideration. For example, if operating machinery, you must ensure it is suitable for one person to do this alone. You should also take into consideration how an alarm can be raised in an emergency and what the response time is likely to be.

Are you allowed to work alone in a shop?

Working alone in a shop is common practice. Extra safety measures should be taken however, as lone shop workers can become easy targets for robberies and other crimes. A risk assessment must also be carried out and consider the local crime rates, employee training levels and what emergency procedures are in place.

What hazards are lone workers in New Zealand exposed to?

Working alone means if something goes wrong or there is an accident there may be no one else there to help. 

WorkSafe New Zealand states “Lone workers – particularly those working late night shifts – may be at increased risk of confrontation or even injury where some work tasks are more challenging to do alone. First you must always eliminate the risk where you’re reasonably able to. Where you’re not reasonably able to, then you need to consider what you can do to minimise the risk”. 

Certain environments also increase the risk to employees, particularly those in which customers may become upset, aggressive or take advantage of a lone worker. Environments where alcohol, gambling and/or money are involved, as well as sensitive social work, can cause sudden mood changes and hostile behaviour. 

Utility workers often operate in rural areas, underground or with dangerous machinery and face environmental risks. If an accident were to happen, they may not be able to call for help. Similarly, staff who travel to different locations as part of their role may not be able to notify managers should an accident happen whilst on the road. 

In some environments, no matter how stringent the risk assessment or safety measures put in place, the risk is too great to allow for lone working. 

So, how can an employer reduce the risk for people who work alone?

Lone Worker Risk Assessments

The first and most important step in determining whether your employees are safe to work alone is carrying out a thorough risk assessment for each employee/environment as appropriate.

If the risks identified through the process are too high or uncontrollable, you must not let your employees work alone under any circumstance.

If, however, steps can be taken to reduce risk to a controllable level, in line with legislation, it may be safe to allow your employees to work alone, following the implementation of a lone worker policy.

What is a lone worker policy? How do you know if your workers are safe?

A lone worker policy is a guide that sets out your companies’ rules on working alone and helps your employees to understand the risks of their role. It also provides your staff with practical advice and instruction on how to safely carry out their roles and what procedures to follow should an incident occur.

A regular review of both your risk assessments and lone worker policy will help you identify whether your lone workers are safe. You may also wish to carry out inspections to ensure safe work practices are being followed.

Monitoring employees using Lone Worker Apps

Being able to monitor your employee’s whereabouts is extremely important in keeping them safe, as accidents can occur at any time. Regular communications should be maintained with lone working staff and procedures put in place so that employees can quickly communicate with their employer and raise the alarm if needed.

Manual methods of monitoring can be time-consuming, unreliable and often include a large amount of paperwork. Significant advances in mobile technology have led many companies to switch to app-based lone worker solutions to help them monitor and protect their remote staff.

StaySafe is an easy-to-use app and online monitoring hub that offers a way for lone workers to raise an alarm in a dangerous situation. StaySafe monitors the location of lone workers in real-time via the StaySafe hub so that assistance can be sent directly to an employee in an emergency.

Before a period of lone work or travel, employees start a timed session on the app which can be viewed by a monitor on the cloud-based hub. If an employee fails to end their lone working session safely, a session expiry alert will be sent to their employer or chosen monitor. 

The app features check-in reminders which prompt users to check-in routinely to confirm that they are safe. If a worker finds themselves in a dangerous situation, they can trigger a panic alert and help can be quickly dispatched to their location. 

To find out more about how employers in New Zealand use the StaySafe app to keep their staff protected, click here


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