Vehicle operators and drivers in remote locations often face harsh and high risk conditions such as unstable landscapes, extreme temperatures and solitary work environments. For council staff who work outside of normal business hours, such as public bathroom cleaners and street sweeping crews, as well as those operating roadside mowers or other machinery on their own, the risks are amplified.
A report recently submitted to Baw Baw Shire Council in Victoria indicated over the past 12 months several incidents had occurred within the urban operations team with council operators working alone. The report also revealed there had been incidents where equipment had been damaged and in one case the operator was injured. This highlights the potential hazards for staff working alone and the need for better back-to-base communications for council staff.
Under the Workplace Health and Safety Act employers have a duty of care for staff travelling to, and working in, remote locations. Council managers operating a fleet of assets need an understanding of the potentially hazardous factors their operators may encounter, as there are many situations where workers are out on their own, facing the perils of mowing verges and checking roads. The more remote the location, the greater the safety risk. The challenge for managers is gaining visibility into, and the ability to communicate with, remote workers.
So, how can council managers leverage clever technology to track workers and ensure the safety of these personnel?
Deploy a satellite modem - GPS fleet management technology helps identify where a vehicle has been and where it is but, in a remote location, workers often won't be close enough to a mobile telecommunications tower to receive a signal. For councils operating regularly in remote locations, fitting a satellite modem will ensure communications lines remain open, even if no mobile coverage is available.
Provide a personal safety device - Even if the route is familiar and being monitored, staff should have a personal safety device that triggers a warning should something dangerous occur. Carrying a safety pendant is particularly important for remote workers such as toilet cleaning crews, who are required to leave their vehicles, often late at night. For example, if a worker ventures too far from their vehicle, the solution deployed by Baw Baw council, , has the potential to send an 'out of range' alert to notify the worker to return to a safe operation range. It also has the ability for the worker to send a man-down alert back to base, should an incident occur.
Fit a dash-mounted panic button - What would happen if a worker operating a ride-on mower along the side of a highway was to roll their vehicle, fall to the wrong side of the hill and find themselves trapped? If a vehicle is fitted with an easily accessible panic button, as well as specialised equipment sensing units including gyroscope rotation sensors to detect rollovers, workers can easily seek immediate attention.
Roads and worksites in remote locations can be used infrequently meaning workers may not see another vehicle or even another person for an entire day. This places increased pressure on fleet managers to adhere to workplace health and safety legislation and duty of care for mobile staff. With the right technology, councils can have an alert system in place to help ensure an inconvenience doesn't become a disaster.