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Working remotely and isolated

In a recent incident, a worker was found deceased after attempting to seek assistance when the vehicle he was travelling in became bogged. Early investigations have found that two workers were travelling along outback roads in two vehicles relocating equipment.

It appears that at some point they have turned off the bitumen road onto a dirt road where they encountered water across the road. It seems the vehicles became bogged and after failed attempts to get the vehicles out, the workers decided to travel on foot to seek help.

It is believed that the temperature was approximately 38-40 degrees. After some time, one of the workers decided to turn back to the vehicles and was subsequently found and taken to the nearest homestead. The other worker was found deceased two days later.

Safety issues

Remote or isolated work is work that separates someone from other people and can make it harder to get help such as rescue, medical assistance, and emergency services. This can be due to location, time, or the nature of the work being done.

Examples of remote and isolated workers are:

  • farm workers completing tasks alone, such as ploughing and sowing, changing irrigation, and bore running
  • all-night convenience-store and service-station attendants
  • sales representatives, including real estate agents
  • long-distance freight-transport drivers
  • scientists, park rangers, and others carrying out field work alone
  • health and community workers working in isolation with members of the public.

The risks of remote and isolated work are that workers:

  • are more vulnerable
  • won’t be able to get help in an emergency
  • might not receive important information, training, or instructions, or the necessary supervision
  • are more likely to suffer psychological distress (such as anxiety, stress, fear, and depression) because of their work, which could lead to an increased risk of serious injury, or suicide. They could, for example, be psychologically affected by:
    • the negative impact working away from home can have on family relationships
    • feeling excluded and disconnected because of the lack of social, emotional, and practical support from colleagues
    • environmental issues, such as drought in the agricultural industry.
  • The person conducting the business or undertaking (PCBU) may also not be familiar with the remote-working environment and its potential hazards, which could increase the risk to workers.

Ways to manage health and safety

Effective risk management starts with a commitment to health and safety from those who manage the business. If an incident occurs, you'll need to show the regulator that you’ve used an effective risk management process. This responsibility is covered by your primary duty of care in the Work Health and Safety Act 2011.

Use the hierarchy of controls to help decide how to eliminate and reduce risks in your place of work. The hierarchy of controls ranks types of control methods from the highest level of protection and reliability to the lowest. It’s a step-by-step approach to eliminating or reducing risks. You must work through the hierarchy of controls when managing risks, with the aim of eliminating the hazard, which is the most effective control.

Possible control measures to prevent similar incidents

Workers and management can work together to reduce the risks of remote and isolated work.

For workers

As a worker, you need to consider the risks of remote or isolated work and make sure you can communicate and get help if necessary.

Some steps you can take to stay safe:

  • Before you leave, tell someone where you’re going and when you’ll return.
  • Make sure you have the right communication equipment you need to stay in touch, for example, a mobile phone, 2-way radio, or satellite phone.
  • Take enough water and food.
  • Have a call-in system. For example, if you’re working on a farm, arrange to call in via 2-way radio at specific times, or when you move to another location.
  • Keep first-aid equipment handy and make sure you know how to use it.
  • Make sure you have access to an emergency position-indicating radio beacon (EPIRB) or GPS tracking system.
  • Include a list of emergency numbers and property GPS coordinates on a card nearby.
  • Have the appropriate recovery gear if travelling off road.


If you’re a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU), you have a duty to, as far as it’s reasonably practicable to:

  • put measures in place to protect remote and isolated workers from risk including:
    • inspecting your business and reviewing processes — consider the location where the work is being done. For example, think about environmental conditions and distance to facilities and resources. Identify the work and work processes that require workers to be remote or isolated.
    • talking to your workers —talk to your workers to get their ideas about potential risks and hazards at work. You could also use a confidential survey, so workers feel safe to report issues and make suggestions. Also think about ways to include workers who are less likely to speak up in a group meeting or who might have language or reading and writing barriers
    • considering the worker and any individual factors, like their experience and training, that may affect their ability to work remotely and manage the environment
    • reviewing available information —look at:
      • if travelling, look at the BOM, and maps
      • information from a range of sources and gather ideas about how other places of work are managing remote or isolated work
    • movement records — keeping track of workers can help control the risks. This can be done with:
      • systems for calling in with supervisors or colleagues
      • satellite tracking systems or devices
  • make sure workers can communicate effectively and get help if needed
    • take into consideration the length of time and time of day workers may be working remotely or isolated
    • the type of communication system will depend on the environment and location of the work. In some cases, you might need expert advice or local knowledge to select the best system. Communication systems can include:
      • personal security systems, such as non-movement sensors that automatically activate an alarm transmission if the transmitter or transceiver has not moved within a certain time. This alarm should then trigger a process for an emergency response
      • radio communication systems
      • satellite communication systems
      • distress beacons, for example emergency position indication radio beacons (EPIRB) used in ships and boats, emergency locator transmitters (ELT) used in aircraft, and person locator beacons (PLB) for personal use
      • mobile phones — in locations which have mobile coverage. If there is any doubt about coverage, you should consult with the provider or have a backup system
  • supply the correct equipment for the task e.g. recovery gear if working/travelling off road.
  • ensure skills, training and experience of the worker, as well as their physical and psychological health. Workers should be given training before working alone or remotely. Examples of topics to include in training (depending on the work being done) are:
    • using communications systems
    • administering first aid
    • getting help in an emergency
    • driving off-road vehicles
    • bush survival
  • ensure no other persons’ health or safety is put at risk through your business or undertaking. For example, random checks to ensure workers are following procedures. If you identify an issue, address it by, for example, giving the worker more training and start a process to manage performance before implementing these controls.

Risk management is an ongoing process. Circumstances can change and you need to regularly review the work environment, work processes, equipment, and any other relevant factors to identify any new hazards and risks. According to work health and safety laws, you’re required to review your control measures when:

  • you become aware that a control measure isn’t working
  • there’s been a change that might give rise to a new risk
  • you identify a new hazard or risk
  • workers indicate a review is needed
  • a supervisor or health and safety representative requests a review
  • the dynamic and complexity of your business changes
  • a work health and safety incident has occurred.

More Information

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