Working alone in transport, logistics and wholesale

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. Your employee might be alone or in isolation only for a short amount of time or this can be up to days or even weeks but can still be considered alone or in isolation (Comcare, 2013).

People who work alone or in isolation face different levels of risk compared to other employees. These employees 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 or be able to notice the visible signs of fatigue, increasing 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. Employees who do not feel safe at work are at an increased risk of developing work-related stress with workplace isolation a contributing factor.

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 are listed below:

  • 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.

Watch this 2 minute video from WorkSafe Queensland which outlines some of the risks of working alone or in isolation. It's set on a farm but is very relevant for other settings, particularly where there are drivers.

The Government of Western Australia's Isolated Employees resource below highlights the seriousness of the issue with a case study on page 1. SafeWork Australia also has some information about the risks of working alone or in isolation.

Remote and isolated work

Step 2

Understand 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 from passengers are linked to poor employee mental health and wellbeing.

Other risks associated with working alone or in isolation include:

  • road rage or other forms of occupational violence and aggression – particularly in transport services e.g. taxi drivers, delivery services
  • vehicle or machinery accidents e.g. on road, rail and in warehouses
  • hijacking of armoured vehicles or if carrying valuable stock or loads
  • fires and explosion
  • vehicle fumes
  • slips, trips and falls - this is one of the leading causes of injury and claims in the industry
  • animal attacks
  • employee health concerns e.g. Having a fit or heart attack whilst driving

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 your 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 risk

In general, 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 possible, then your aim is to reduce the risk as much as you can.

Read the below WorkSafe Victoria document 'Working alone' for safety measures your workplace can put in place. The resources in step 4 above provide a variety of control measures for different risks associated with working alone or in isolation in your industry.

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 working alone, remotely or in isolation policy, or you can include information on working in these environments as part of your general occupational health and safety policy. What's important is that everyone knows where to find it.

Use the below template to draft or review your own working alone, remotely or in isolation policy.

Step 7

Share and review

Use your meetings or 'toolbox talks' to discuss the risks of working alone 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 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.

More resources

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

Discover the Toolkit and subscribe to WorkWell

WorkWell supports leaders to create safe and mentally healthy workplaces. Access the WorkWell Toolkit for step-by-step tools tailored to your business size, or subscribe to the WorkWell newsletter to stay up to date and receive support direct to your inbox!

The WorkWell Toolkit Subscribe

The WorkWell Toolkit is proudly developed by WorkWell.

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