Remote or isolated work

How to reduce and manage risks associated with working alone or in isolation.


Step 1: Learn about working alone, remotely or in isolation

What does it mean to work alone, remotely or in isolation?

Remote work is work at locations where access to resources and communications is difficult and travel times may be lengthy. Isolated work is where there are no or few other people around and access to help from others, especially in an emergency, may be difficult.

An employee can be considered to be working alone or in isolation even if other people are close by, whether for a short amount of time or even weeks on end. Which is why employees working in larger institutions and cities can also still be working alone or in isolation.

Some examples of working alone or in isolation:

  • employees working in remote areas
  • employees working night-shift
  • employees who travel alone.
  • working unsupervised – public transport, taxi and limousine drivers

How does working alone, remotely or in isolation affect your business?

People who work alone or in isolation face different levels of risk compared to other employees. They may be unable to access immediate assistance from team members, other people or emergency services due to the location, time and type of work they are doing. In fact, exposure to violence and poor access to emergency assistance are among the common hazards associated with remote or isolated work.

Not only are these employees potentially at an increased risk of physical harm, but working alone or in isolation can have a negative effect on their mental health. A lack of social contact, particularly over an extended period, may lead to anxiety, lack of motivation and loss of involvement in decision-making within the organisation.

What are your rights and responsibilities at work?

Employers must provide and maintain a workplace that is safe and free from risks to health, including psychological health, so far as is reasonably practicable.

Employees have a responsibility to take reasonable care of their own health and safety in the workplace, and the health and safety of others. They must also cooperate with employers to create a safe environment.

Step 2: Consult your employees

Consultation can be done in a number of ways. Depending on your workplace, it can be as simple as casually walking around your workplace having a conversation, or as formal as setting up a health and safety committee.

Good consultation has lots of benefits – it leads to better decision making and greater cooperation and trust between employers and employees, who get a better understanding of each other's views.

Consultation isn't just good practice though, it's actually a legal requirement for employers. Employers must consult with employees including health and safety representatives (if any), so far as is reasonably practicable, about matters that directly affect, or are likely to directly affect, their health and safety. This includes identifying whether remote or isolated work may be a hazard at the workplace, and working out how to eliminate or reduce the risks associated with it. At a minimum, it must involve sharing information about an issue, giving employees reasonable opportunity to share their views on that issue, and taking those views into consideration.

Learn about your rights and responsibilities, as well as how best to consult

Step 3: Identify hazards and risks

A hazard is anything that has the potential to cause harm to a person. Think of hazards like 'situations' or 'things' in the workplace that can hurt someone, either physically or mentally. The risk is the potential of the harm actually happening.

For example, a cable on the floor is a physical hazard. The risk is being physically injured from tripping on that cable. The same applies to hazards that affect our mental health – these are known as psychosocial hazards.

Remote or isolated work is an example of a hazard. The risk is that working alone or in isolation could lead to an injury.

Roles which can involve remote or isolated work include:

  • real estate agents
  • a community nurse conducting visits at night
  • school principal or doctor in a rural area
  • offshore mining
  • fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) employees / when travelling for work
  • those who work from home some or all of their week
  • working alone physically – unpacking in a warehouse
  • out of hours work – outside of standard working hours such as shift work (e.g. night shift operators in petrol stations or convenience stores)
  • long distance travelling – freight transport drivers
  • working in isolation with the public – public transport drivers

Often multiple hazards can be present at the same time and can combine to increase the risk of harm occurring. Identifying remote or isolated work as a hazard and understanding factors that contribute to the risks associated with it occurring is the best way to prevent these from happening.

Step 4: Assess the risks

Assess the risk of remote or isolated work occurring

A risk assessment will help you understand the risks to your employees' health, and how to prioritise your efforts to manage them.

It is good practice to identify hazards, both individually and together, that are creating risks to health and safety. Once you have identified the hazards, you can assess the risk of them occurring.

Risk assessment tips

Step 5: Control the risks

A control simply means 'ways to manage' an issue. Controls are things you put in place to eliminate or reduce risks. The list could be endless, but it's really just about taking action, so far as reasonably practicable, to manage the risks associated with remote or isolated work in your workplace.

Here are some ways that employers can take action (or 'implement a control') to create a safe workplace.

Remember to measure the effectiveness of existing controls to see if they’re working and if not, look for new ways to control the risks.

Step 6: Share, review and improve

A safe and mentally healthy workplace needs ongoing commitment and engagement.

If you have an OHS policy, review it every year or when new information about working in isolation becomes available. You want to check whether the controls you've implemented are still relevant and effective (i.e. training, reporting).

By sharing the outcomes of these reviews, as well as suggestions and recommendations for improvements, you can keep the conversation going. This will continue to build trust and cooperation between you and your employees. Consultation must be undertaken before making any changes to, the workplace, things used at the workplace, or the conduct of work at the workplace, which may affect employee health and safety, and these changes should be communicated to your employees.

Here's an idea! Set a calendar appointment now to review your policy in 12 months.

More information

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Disclaimer: The WorkWell Toolkit provides general information only. Please consider your specific circumstances, needs and seek appropriate professional advice.