ORC keeps watchover remote staff

Otago Regional Council staff who work alone are now required to carry emergency locator beacons.

As part of the council's management of health and safety, it was looking at the issue of staff working alone in the field, chief executive Peter Bodeker said at a meeting yesterday.

''We have a big challenge in the work we do. Apart from the amount of driving, is the number of staff who work alone,'' he said.

Those staff were often on farmland or forestry blocks doing inspections, monitoring or pest work, and there was always the danger of falls.

''Much of those areas are outside cellphone range.''

The council had looked into various systems, including vehicle tracking, but that required staff to be in the line of sight of the vehicle or within cellphone tower range.

''Epirbs [locator beacons] provided the best cover,'' he said.

While the council operated a buddy system, in which staff indicated their intended work for the day, circumstances meant they sometimes did not follow that plan and ended up in a different place, he said.

''It's good in theory, but doesn't always work.''

A limited number of locator beacons had been available for staff in the past. The council had now invested in more and they were available to all staff working alone.

''They are very cost-effective, at less than $400 a unit.''

Spare units would also be available for office staff who were travelling alone, he said.

Cr David Shepherd said it was a commendable move, but staff needed to understand the locator beacons needed to be in their pockets, or secured on their belts.

''They're no good left in the vehicle.''

Mr Bodeker said the council was also looking at how unsecured equipment was being carried in vehicles to ensure it did not pose a safety risk.

''Water sample boxes, temporary screens and printed material all pose a safety risk if not securely stowed in a vehicle.''

Field staff were now required to secure loose items in their cabs, or stow them in the canopy area of a vehicle's deck.

For office-based staff, a station wagon would be converted to allow a wire screen to be installed between the front seats and rear area.

''I think health and safety is very good in this organisation but it will change as ... technology changes,'' Mr Bodeker said.



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