Remote for some

In Deua National Park, NSW I met Fergus, who is afee collector for parks and wildlife NSW. Talk to Fergus and you find out so much more. Of Scottish descent (well at least his father was Scottish), a bearded and motorcycle mounted Fergus would be a formidable sight if you had just woken up from a night's boozing around the camp fire. You could imagine one of his kilt clad forebears cresting the hill and raiding an enemy camp, taking no hostages. For a work system junkie as I am, Fergus has an interesting take on portable and remote work. Fergus told me he was approached by the NSW National Parks and Wildlife service to see if he would do the work of fee collecting within the Deua National Park. So why is Fergus' work interesting? I think it is because very quickly when you look at how he works, you get to see how personalised a system of work is. While he lives in the area, his workplace is both big and small, as local as a motorcycle, as big as the park and its environs. On the face of it, the work includes a limited amount of record keeping - giving receipts and the like - some cash handling and general information collected and given. Mounted in the side saddles of his bike are the obvious tools for this. Other tasks include visual inspection of facilities and infrastructure, observation of wildlife and probably some handling of wildlife, perhaps even injured wildlife which has some follow on tasks like transporting animals.

Then you get to the more risky and interesting bits. If a camper refuses to follow the rules, how would Fergus approach them to get them to comply? If there is destruction and some (now absent) suspects, how does he collect evidence that allows the guilty parties to be prosecuted? It turns out that this simple job of fee collection is a cross over in jobs found at Australia Zoo, CSI (Crime scene investigation) and a debt collection agency. All based on a motorcycle. Now Fergus' favourite is a Ulysses. His second most favourite tool is a video camera which he mounts to the front of his bike. The footage is then uploaded via the internet and shared with experts who can help him in various aspects of his job. Then, of course, there is the ubiquitous mobile phone which takes us into issues of screen glare outdoors, signal strength and upload speeds to the net from all over the park as well as home.

So I ask you, when we are talking about mobile work, even mobile office work and clearly some of Fergus' work is, strictly speaking, administrative, how do we think of risk? I have been looking at a very useful document about risk and mobile work called 'Out There' produced by the Commonwealth Safety Management Forum. This has great appendices which can be used to look at the risk of the travel itself and the environment. Clearly travel is necessary to do the work. Fergus has a home office, a motor bike and some pens and paper, but looking at those does not help us really understand his world of risk. My take on this is that we could try to do a risk assessment on everything Fergus could encounter in his administrative role, but we would never get there. The list would include being attacked by a roo (has already happened), bitten by a snake (not sure), getting sunburned (likely), coming off his bike (likely), being insulted or assaulted by a park user (again, likely). The truth is, for someone like Fergus, you hire competence and specifically his ability to be aware of and self manage the risks he encounters on a day to day basis. And also his willingness to consider some of these risks, such as insults, as just part of his day to day work.

Makes you think, how would the new approach to Bullying in the Workplace apply to Fergus? Even the most straight forward job titles such as 'Fee Collector' are more than they seem. But talking to Fergus, his job was much more than collecting coins and giving receipts. The hairy and unusual parts of his job were what made it interesting. Where else do you get to hang out with film crews and PhD students, yobbos and families in your day to day work?