Remote or isolated workers can find it harder to get help in an emergency. In some situations (for example, when someone is working the night shift at a service station), it can also increase the risk of work-related violence and aggression.
What is remote or isolated work?
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. People can be isolated even if others are around, for example, a cleaner working by themselves at night in a city office building is likely to be isolated.
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.
What are the risks of remote or isolated work?
The risks of remote and isolated work are that workers:
- are more vulnerable
- may be at a higher risk of work-related violence and aggression
- 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.
How do I manage the risks?
Workers and management can work together to reduce the risks of remote and isolated work.
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.
- Don’t work alone if there is a risk of work-related violence and aggression.
- 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.
Watch this video about how to minimise risks and stay in touch when you’re working in remote or isolated areas.
If you’re a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU), you have a duty to, as far as it’s reasonably practicable:
- put measures in place to protect remote and isolated workers from risk
- make sure workers can communicate effectively and get help if needed
- ensure no other persons’ health or safety is put at risk through your business or undertaking.
This four-step risk management process will help you identify and address risks. You can also read the Managing the work environment and facilities code of practice 2021 (PDF, 0.57 MB) and the How to manage work health and safety risks code of practice 2021 (PDF, 0.65 MB) for more information.
Four steps to managing risk
If you’re a PCBU, you have a duty to ensure the health and safety of workers, whether they are isolated or working remotely for a short time or a lengthy period.
The first step to manage the risk of harm to workers is to identify the hazards related to work tasks and the environment. For example:
- park rangers doing fieldwork in remote locations can’t easily access help such as emergency or medical services
- service-station attendants who work alone at night could be exposed to work-related violence or aggression
- long-distance truck drivers could suffer psychological stress because of loneliness or disrupted family relationships.
Identify these risks by:
- 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:
- information from a range of sources and gather ideas about how other places of work are managing remote or isolated work
- information from your own records (including workers’ compensation claims, recorded incidents, sick leave and worker complaints) as well as workers’ compensation data for your organisation and industry
- guidelines and advice in publications like the Managing the work environment and facilities code of practice 2021 (PDF, 0.57 MB) (PDF, 0.57 MB) and the How to manage work health and safety risks code of practice 2021 (PDF, 0.65 MB).
A risk assessment involves thinking about:
- what could happen if someone is exposed to a hazard
- the likelihood of it happening.
This can help you decide how serious the risk is, and what you should do about it.
You can read more about what factors to consider in the Managing the work environment and facilities code of practice 2021 (PDF, 0.57 MB). These factors include the:
- length of time and time of day when the person may be working alone
- available forms of communication and how often there is contact with the worker
- where the work is being done, for example, in a high-crime area or far from medical help
- nature of the work and whether it involves high-risk activities, such as working at heights or operating a forklift
- skills, training, and experience of the worker, as well as their physical and psychological health.
Once you’ve identified and assessed the risks, you can decide on control measures.
The most effective control measure is to remove the risk completely. Is it possible to do the work in way that does not require workers to work in remote areas, or in isolation? For example, could processes be automated or done online, or could technology such as drones or aerial photography be used?
If it’s not reasonably practicable to eliminate the need for remote or isolated work, consult your workers and decide on ways to minimise the risks. You can, for example, consider:
- buddy systems—some jobs are so high risk (for example, where there’s a risk of violence) that workers should always be accompanied by another person
- workplace layout and design—workplaces can be designed to reduce the likelihood of violence, for example, you can install physical barriers, increase visibility, and install a CCTV system monitored in real time to enable a quick response to an emergency situation
- communication systems—the type of 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
Watch a video about communication options for workers in remote or isolated areas
- 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
- training, information, and instruction—workers should be given training before working alone or remotely. Examples of topics to include in training (depending on the work being done) are:
- dealing with aggressive people
- using communications systems
- administering first aid
- getting help in an emergency
- driving off-road vehicles
- bush survival
- monitoring and supervision—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.
Standards and compliance
The Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (the WHS Act) provides a framework to protect the health, safety and welfare of all workers at your place of work. It also protects the health and safety of all other people who might be affected by the work.
Codes of practice
- Managing the work environment and facilities code of practice 2021 (PDF, 0.57 MB)
- How to manage work health and safety risks code of practice 2021 (PDF, 0.65 MB)
- Work health and safety consultation, co-operation and co-ordination code of practice 2021 (PDF, 0.43 MB)
- Children and young workers code of practice 2006 (PDF, 0.42 MB)
- Electrical safety code of practice 2020 - Electrical equipment rural industry (PDF, 0.65 MB)
- First aid in the workplace code of practice 2021 (PDF, 0.48 MB)
- Hazardous manual tasks code of practice 2021 (PDF, 1.38 MB)
- Managing risks of hazardous chemicals in the workplace code of practice 2021 (PDF, 1.24 MB)
- Work health and safety consultation, co-operation and co-ordination code of practice 2021 (PDF, 0.43 MB)
- Managing risks of plant in the workplace code of practice 2021 (PDF, 1.57 MB)
- Managing the risk of falls at workplaces code of practice 2021 (PDF, 3.9 MB)
- Mobile computer work
- Serious about farm safety (PDF, 0.69 MB)
- Preventing and responding to occupational violence (PDF, 0.37 MB)
- Violence at work
- Mental health of workers
- People at Work - psychosocial risk assessment survey
- Mentally healthy workplaces toolkit
- Preventing and managing risks to work-related psychological health (PDF, 0.49 MB)
- Remote and isolated work information from Safe Work Australia
- Remote and isolated work video