Work that is done away from the help of other people or services because of its location, time or tasks is known as remote or isolated work.
An obvious example of isolated work is a farmer working by herself out in a paddock, away from populated areas and therefore emergency services if something went wrong.
But a worker may be isolated, even if other people may be close by: for example, a cleaner working by themselves at night in a city office building. Other examples include:
- all-night convenience store and service station attendants
- sales representatives, including real estate agents
- long distance freight transport drivers
- scientists and park rangers carrying out field work alone
- health and community workers working solo with members of the public.
In some situations, a worker may be alone for a short time. In other situations, the worker may be on their own for days or weeks in hard to reach locations; for example, on sheep and cattle stations.
Assessing the risks
Working alone or remotely increases the risk of any job. Poor access to emergency help is one hazard; exposure to violence from customers or clients is another.
Consider the following factors when you are assessing the risks:
The length of time the person may be working alone
- How long would the person need to be alone to finish the job?
The time of day when a person may be working alone
- Is there increased risk at certain times of day? For example, a service station attendant working alone late at night may be at greater risk of exposure to violence than one who works during the day.
- What kinds of communication does the worker have access to?
- Do you have procedures for regular contact with the worker?
- Will the emergency communication system work properly in all situations?
- If communication systems are vehicle-based, what arrangements do you have to cover the worker when they are away from the vehicle?
The location of the work
- Is the work in a remote location that makes immediate rescue or access by emergency services difficult?
- What could happen if there is a vehicle breakdown?
The nature of the work
- What machinery, tools and equipment are used?
- Are high risk activities involved? For example, working at heights or with electricity, hazardous substances or hazardous plant?
- Is fatigue likely to increase risk? For example, driving a vehicle or operating machinery for long hours?
- Is there an increased risk of violence or aggression when workers have to deal with clients or customers by themselves?
- Can environmental factors affect the safety of the worker? For example, extreme hot or cold environments?
- Is there risk of attack by animals, including reptiles, insects and sea creatures?
The skills and capabilities of the worker
- What is the worker’s level of work experience and training? Are they able to make sound judgements about their safety?
- Does the worker have a pre-existing medical condition that may increase risk?
Controlling the risk
- Buddy system: Some jobs have such a high level of risk that workers should not work alone. For example, jobs where there is a risk of violence, or working in confined spaces.
- Workplace layout and design: Design your workplace to reduce the likelihood of violence. For example, install physical barriers and monitored CCTV, and ensure workers and others can be seen (no ‘blind spots’).
- Movement records: Knowing where workers are expected to be can help control the risk. For example, set up call-in systems/procedures with supervisors or colleagues. Satellite tracking systems or devices may be able to send messages as part of a scheduled call-in system, and have distress or alert functions.
- Training, information and instruction: Workers need training to prepare them for working alone or in remote locations. This might cover dealing with potentially aggressive clients, using communications systems, administering first aid, getting emergency assistance, driving off-road vehicles or bush survival.
The distance of the workplace from ambulance services, hospital and medical centres should be taken into account when determining your first aid requirements. For example, if life-threatening injuries or illnesses could occur and timely access to emergency services cannot be assured, you should consider training someone in more advanced first aid techniques (for example providing oxygen).
You may need extra first aid considerations for workers in remote or isolated areas. For example, where access is difficult due to travel time, poor roads or weather conditions, arrangements should include aerial evacuation.
In reducing the risks to health and safety associated with remote or isolated work, you must provide a safe system of work including effective communication with the worker. This will assist in enabling an immediate response in an emergency.
The type of system you use will depend on the distance from the base and the environment the worker will be located in or travelling through. You may need to consult with communications experts and locals to select the most effective communication system.
If a worker is working alone in a workplace that has a telephone, communicating via the telephone is adequate, as long as the worker can reach the telephone in an emergency. In situations where a telephone is not available or accessible, choose a communication method that will allow a worker to call for help in an emergency at any time. For example:
- personal security systems: These are wireless and portable, so are suitable for people moving around or checking deserted workplaces. Some include a sensor that will automatically activate an alarm if the transmitter or transceiver (and therefore the worker) has not moved in a certain time
- radio communication systems: These enable communication between two mobile users in different vehicles or from a mobile vehicle and a fixed station. These systems depend on factors such as frequency, power and distance from or between broadcasters
- satellite communication systems: These enable communication with workers in geographically remote locations. Satellite phones allow voice transmission during transit, but they can be affected by damage to aerials, failure of vehicle power supplies, or vehicle damage
- distress beacons: These should be provided where life-threatening emergencies may occur, to pinpoint location and indicate an emergency exists. Distress beacons include Emergency Position Indication Radio Beacons (EPIRBs) used in ships and boats, Emergency Locator Transmitters (ELTs) used in aircraft, and Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs) for personal use
- mobile phones: These cannot be relied upon as an effective means of communication in many locations. Geographical features may hamper their use, especially at the edge of the coverage area, and different models have different capabilities in terms of effective range from the base station. Confirm coverage in the area where the worker will work before work begins. Consult the service provider if you have any doubt about the capability of a particular phone to sustain a signal for the entire period the worker is alone. If any gaps in coverage are likely, consider other methods of communication. It is important that batteries are kept charged and a spare is available.