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Remote or isolated work

Remote work refers to work that is isolated from the assistance of other people because of location, time, or the nature of the work. It can involve working in locations where there is difficulty in immediate rescue or attendance of emergency services (where required).

What is remote or isolated work?

It can also include work at locations where access to resources and communications is difficult and travel times are lengthy. Isolated work includes work where there are no or few other people around or where workers must live away from home for extended periods.

Some occupations who may undertake work that is remote or isolated include farmers, community nurses conducting visits at night, night shift operators in petrol stations, fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) workers, workers who spend a lot of time travelling (e.g. driving  ), workers working alone from home or socially isolated away from home over protracted periods of time.

What are the risks?

Remote or isolated work can cause a stress response which when frequent, prolonged or severe may cause physical or psychological injury to a worker. Remote and isolated work may exist as a hazard on its own, however often will occur in combination with other psychosocial hazards at work (which combined may increase risk of harm).

Like all work health and safety risks, the risks associated with remote and isolated work must be managed.

How do I manage the risks?

Everyone at work has a responsibility for health and safety, both physical and psychological.

For workers

As a worker, you must take reasonable care of your own health and safety in your place of work, and the health and safety of others who may be affected by your actions. You must also follow any reasonable instructions given by the person who conducts a business or undertaking (PCBU).

For businesses

As a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU), you have a primary duty of care to ensure the health and safety of your workers and others in your place of work. You must provide and maintain, so far as is reasonably practicable, a safe and healthy working environment. You must also talk with your workers (and with other PCBUs when required) about health and safety issues.

Following a four-step risk management process will help your business meet its responsibilities under work health and safety (WHS) laws.

The first step is to identify hazards in your place of work. This means looking at everything from the work environment to work tasks, how they’re carried out, and the way work is designed and managed.

Typical situations that may lead to an increase in risk in remote or isolated work include those where there is:

  • limited access to communication devices or no regular contact with other workers or supervisors
  • lengthy periods of isolation working away from social and family contacts, and support networks such as fly-in/fly-out or drive-in/drive-out arrangements
  • excessive monitoring of workers working from home
  • work in locations where there is difficulty in immediate rescue or attendance of emergency services
  • work where violence or aggression from customers or clients is possible.

Sometimes, a worker may avoid reporting concerns because:

  • it’s thought to be ‘part of the job’ and nothing can be done about it
  • the worker believes that only ‘serious incidents or issues’ are to be reported
  • there’s a belief that nothing will happen if they report
  • the worker believes they will be blamed for not being able to handle the job
  • the reporting process is time-consuming and complex
  • the workplace culture encourages “just getting on with it”.

To determine if remote or isolated work is a potential hazard in your place of work:

  • talk with health and safety representatives, health and safety committees and workers
  • walk through and inspect your place of work, including how people interact
  • review workers’ compensation claims
  • refer to industry standards and guidelines
  • review the hazard and incident reports, exit reports and complaints.

A risk assessment involves thinking about what could happen if someone is exposed to a hazard (the consequence of exposure) and the likelihood of it happening.

Psychosocial hazards may interact or combine to increase the overall psychosocial risk so need to be considered together.

A risk assessment can help you figure out:

  • the severity of a risk
  • whether any effective control measures are in place
  • what actions you can take to control this risk
  • how quickly you should act.

To determine the likelihood that someone will be harmed by undertaking remote or isolated work, ask yourself:

  • has it happened before, either in this place of work or somewhere else?
  • if it has happened, how often does it happen?

To determine the possible consequences, ask yourself:

  • will it cause minor or serious injury, or death?

After the risks have been identified and assessed, you'll need to control them. Risk control measures should be selected on the basis of highest protection and most reliability.

Control measures

  • Eliminating the risk
    The most effective control measure is to eliminate the hazard and associated risk, for example you may implement a buddy system to ensure workers are not required to work alone (particularly where there is a risk of violence or to physical safety), or you may modify the services you provide such that workers are not required to travel to remote or isolated locations (virtual or online services may be delivered rather than in person).
    If you are unable to eliminate the hazard, you must identify ways to ensure you are managing it in a way that minimises risks to health and safety.
  • Minimising the risk
    If it’s not reasonably practicable to eliminate the hazard, the risk should be minimised by using a range of control measures, for example:
    • Ensure emergency communication systems in place are suitable for the location, and that workers can access help at any time where needed.
    • Ensure accommodation is lockable, with safe entry and exit
    • Ensure workers are trained in, and carry out, situational risk assessments of the safety of their work location before commencing duties (e.g. when they are working in a client’s home or in the community).
    • Ensure there are appropriate supervision and monitoring systems in place when workers are working in isolation, in the community, or away from the workplace such as:
      • monitored CCTV and enhanced visibility
      • schedule periodic visits by supervisors to visually observe workers and provide appropriate support and assistance
      • procedures to maintain regular contact between workers and supervisors using suitable communication devices
      • automatic warning devices that raise the alarm in an emergency
      • a ‘check-in’ at the beginning and ‘sign-off’ at the end of the working period
      • use satellite tracking systems or devices.
  • Using administrative controls
    You must also use administrative controls if there is still a risk after you’ve tried to reduce it with other control measures. Administrative controls protect your workers by working in ways that reduce their exposure to a hazard, for example:
    • Train workers and supervisors about remote / isolated work policies and procedures, and verify their understanding of the training provided.
    • Ensure policies and procedure are in place that specify how to support remote and/or isolated workers, and train supervisors regarding how to provide necessary support to these workers.
    • Design emergency response procedures with consideration of location and access to the services available (e.g. consider response times for medical emergencies, consult with emergency services about possible rescue scenarios and what would be involved; factor this into procedures and training).
    • Implement opportunities for regular communication and consultation to make sure workers are provided with up-to-date information and given opportunities to connect with the organisation regularly (e.g. when working away from the workplace).

You may need to use a combination of these control measures to meet your responsibilities under WHS laws. Refer to the Managing the risk of psychosocial hazards at work Code of Practice 2022 for more information.

Risk management should be an ongoing process in your business, and you should review your control measures regularly. Don’t wait until something goes wrong.

In some situations, WHS legislation requires you to review controls.

These are:

  • when the control measure is not effective in controlling the risk
  • before a change that might give rise to a new risk
  • when you identify a new hazard or risk
  • when consultation with workers indicates a review is needed
  • when the dynamic and complexity of your business changes, for a new supervisor or worker
  • after a health and safety representative requests a review.

A review of risk control measures should be undertaken after incidents or complaints involving remote or isolated work.

A review of risk control measures can include an examination of:

  • the physical work environment
  • work systems and procedures
  • worker training and information
  • the consultation processes in your place of work.

Legislation and Codes of practice

You should read through the relevant legislation and codes of practice carefully to make sure your business is complying with the health and safety duties in the WHS Act.

Other legislation

A range of laws deal with mental health issues in Queensland workplaces.

Further support

You may wish to contact an organisation listed below for further information or support.

  • Mental Health Commission
  • Lifeline Australia – 13 11 14
  • Mental Health access line – 1300 642 255 a confidential mental health telephone triage service that provides the first point of contact to public mental health services to Queenslanders. Available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and links callers to the nearest Queensland Public Mental Health service.
  • Suicide Call Back Service – 1300 659 467
  • Beyond Blue – 1300 22 46 36
  • 13 YARN – 13 92 76 for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
  • Heads Up – information and resources on developing a healthy workplaces
  • Workers’ Psychological Support Service – assists Queensland workers who have experienced a work-related psychological injury.
  • Injury Prevention and Management Program – IPaM is a joint initiative delivered by WHSQ and WorkCover Queensland. It is a free program designed to help Queensland businesses develop and implement sustainable health, safety and injury management systems.