Working alone, remotely or in isolation

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

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Overview

How this helps your business

An employee can be considered alone or in isolation even if other people are close by or if they are alone for a short amount of time, days or weeks. (Comcare, 2013).

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. Employees may also be unable to receive assistance with difficult tasks, identifying hazards. They may also be unable to notice the visible signs of fatigue which can increase the risk of injury.

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.

Working remotely, such as working from home, and outside of regular working hours continues to rise in Australia with many positives seen from this flexible working arrangement, but a number of important health and safety considerations are needed to support your employees.

A workplace where employees feel safe at work, wherever that is, is not only a positive for your employees but also for your workplace. This can lead to increases in performance, productivity and much more.

Key stats and facts


Employees who feel isolated at work experience lower job satisfaction, commitment to the organisation and are more likely to leave. Lack of management action is a major contributor to isolation in the workplace.

Comcare, 2013, Guide to remote or isolated work

Step 1

Learn more on this topic

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. Therefore staff working in larger institutions and cities can also still be working alone or in isolation.

Some examples of working alone or in isolation:

  • working alone physically – unpacking in a warehouse
  • working away from others – a long haul truck driver
  • working at home
  • out of hours work – outside of standard working hours such as shift work
  • when travelling for work
  • long distance travelling – freight transport drivers
  • working unsupervised – public transport, taxi and limousine drivers
  • workplace isolation – working on a farm or in a geographically isolated location
  • working in isolation with the public – public transport drivers

Comcare, 2017, Comcare's Guide to Remote or Isolated Work

The risks associated with working alone or in isolation can be assessed differently in each workplace and industry. Each situation should be evaluated on its own, taking into account specific risk factors.

The Government of Western Australia's Isolated Employees resource below highlights the seriousness of the issue with a case study on page 1.

Step 2

Identify the risks

Not only is the risk of occupational violence and aggression higher in roles experiencing isolation, employees may be unable to get immediate assistance from emergency services or other team members. In addition, concerns about employee safety and welfare, threats and attacks are linked to poor employee mental health and wellbeing.

Other risks associated with working alone or in isolation include:

  • injuries from dangerous machinery, vehicles and equipment (plant)
  • strain from repetitive tasks, such as production line work
  • exposure to dangerous goods or hazardous substances
  • injuries from lifting, pushing and pulling heavy loads
  • handling heavy tools and equipment
  • being hit by moving objects, like forklifts
  • noisy machinery
  • slips, trips and falls
  • geographical location – for example, employees who may live and work regionally and remotely
  • road rage or other forms of occupational violence and aggression – particularly in transport services e.g. taxi drivers, delivery services
  • hijacking of armoured vehicles or if carrying valuable stock or loads
  • fires and explosion
  • vehicle fumes
  • animal attacks
  • employee health concerns e.g. Having a fit or heart attack whilst driving

Employees who are new to the workforce, new arrivals, or identify with migrant or refugee status may face additional risks in the work environment, as they may not have the confidence to ask for help or communicate feelings of isolation.

Step 3

Consult your staff

It is important that you speak with your employees to find out if they are experiencing isolation in their day to day activities. There are many ways you can talk with and begin to support your employees around this. This can include:

  • one-on-one discussions with your managers and employees
  • having working alone or in isolation as an agenda item at your regular meetings. These may be 'toolbox talks', production meetings, staff meetings or through any other channels your organisation uses to communicate
  • as you casually walk around your workplace with your staff
  • through your health and safety representatives
  • through your health and safety committees
  • focus groups
  • interviews
  • staff surveys

Think about any employees who work for periods with little or no contact with other people and make sure you include them in your discussions about the risks associated with working in isolation.

Step 4

Assess the risk

There are a number of hazards your employees may be exposed to if they work alone or in isolation, exposure to violence and poor access to emergency assistance are two key hazards. Psychologically, concerns over safety and welfare, threats and attacks from clients and the public are linked to poor mental health and wellbeing.

When completing a risk assessment, remember to think about some of the other risk factors specific to your workplace that could impact employees when they are working in isolation or alone. These could include:

  • workplace environment – taking into account where the work is being performed and the weather conditions. This can also include risks from nature e.g. being bitten by a snake
  • testing and measuring things like noise, dust, hazardous substances and manual handling processes
  • analyse records such as the injury register, incident report, near misses
  • the layout and design of the workplace
  • access to accommodation - if travel and stop overs are required
  • communication systems used or needed
  • training and supervision provided to manage risks
  • fatigue management
  • physical fitness – the employee's ability to carry out duties physically
  • psychological fitness - the employee's ability to carry out duties mentally
  • vehicle and machinery use including maintenance

Fill out the risk assessment checklist in the WorkSafe Victoria's Working Alone information sheet to help identify the risks in your workplace.

To assist you in completing your risk assessment, have a chat to your health and safety representatives (HSRs), affected employees and/or relevant employee association to make sure you are aware of any potential risks.

Check out the information on page 7 of Comcare's 'Guide to remote or isolated work' for further information.

If you have drivers in your workplace, you may want to look at the Government of Western Australia's safety checklist for commercial drivers who work alone. See if you can modify this checklist to suit your workplace.

Step 5

Manage the risks

When looking at what your workplace can put in place to address these risks, remember that your aim is to remove the risk completely. If this is not reasonably practical, then your aim is to reduce the risk as much as possible.

Read the below document 'Working alone' for safety measures your workplace can put in place. Consider your industry and find out if specific risk and hazard information is available. This can be accessed through HSR's, relevant union or employer associations. 

Working from home

If working from home (also known as telework), remotely or telecommuting is offered, consider a number of the below strategies you can employ to ensure employees continue to collaborate effectively and maintain momentum.

  • regularly checking in to make sure employees feel supported and are coping with working from home, for example by setting up daily phone or video conference meetings
  • creating opportunities for team communications, for example by using online tools or apps to establish team-wide chat groups
  • being available, accessible and willing to listen when employees need to contact them from home
  • providing employees with appropriate control and flexibility over how they do their work
  • providing practical tools to support positive mental health, such as access to an employee assistance program
  • encouraging employees to stay physically active, eat well and regularly go outside
  • making sure employees are effectively disengaging from their work and logging off at the end of the day
  • ensuring realistic workloads so that employees do not feel obligated to work overtime and can disengage from their work at home
  • having a written plan for how work and when will be done
  • adjusting traditional management styles for focus on employee performance rather than attendance

Step 6

Draft or review your policy

Your employees must be able to have their say in what the policy will be. It could be a stand-alone workplace working alone, remotely or in isolation policy, or you can include information on working alone, remotely or in isolation as part of your general occupational health and safety policy. What's important is that everyone knows where to find it.

Use the Generic Policy Template below to develop your policy or improve your existing policy.

The Workplace Gender Equality Agency has developed a flexible working arrangements policy that can be used to help your workplace.

Step 7

Share and review

Use your meetings or 'toolbox talks' to discuss the risks of working alone, remotely or in isolation, but more importantly the ways in which the workplace has agreed to remove or reduce these risks. Encourage your employees to ask any questions. Share the information widely so that all employees have access to them: you could display them on your notice boards, share them via email or any other ways your workplace communicates with employees. Set a review date to make sure your policy remains up to date and relevant.

Once you’ve shared information it is important that your workplace maintains data such as near misses, incidents or fatalities related to working alone or in isolation so you can improve your processes and look to prevent future incidents.

Evaluate the willingness of your employees to speak up /seek help post a workplace incident, traumatic event or fatality that occurred whilst working alone, remotely or in isolation.

By regularly reviewing and monitoring your risks you are ensuring your workplace is working towards creating a physically and mentally healthy workplace.

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