Are you effectively protecting 'at-risk workers', particularly lone workers?
The new National Model Work Health and Safety Legislation comes into effect in all states on 1 January 2012. Implications for providing effective means of communication and duress alarm capability for at-risk workers including lone workers are summarized below.
As a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) you must manage the risks associated with remote or isolated work, including ensuring effective communication with the worker carrying out remote or isolated work.
Remote or isolated work is work that is isolated from the assistance of other people because
of the location, time or nature of the work being done. Assistance from other people includes
rescue, medical assistance and emergency services.
A worker may be isolated even if other people may be close by, for example a cleaner
working by themselves at night in a city office building. In other cases, a worker may be far
away from populated areas, for example on a farm.
Remote and isolated work includes:
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 fieldwork alone or in remote
health and community workers working in isolation with members of the public.
In some situations, a worker may be alone for a short time. In other situations, the worker
may be on their own for days or weeks in remote locations, for example on sheep and
Assessing the risks
Working alone or remotely increases the risk of any job. Exposure to violence and poor
access to emergency assistance are the main hazards that increase the risk of remote or
isolated work. Factors that should be considered when assessing the risks include the
The length of time the person may be working alone.
How long will the person need to be alone to finish the job?
The time of day when a person may be working alone.
Is there increased risk at certain times of day? For example, a service station attendant working alone late at night may be at greater risk of exposure to violence.
What forms of communication does the worker have access to?
Are there procedures for regular contact with the worker?
Will the emergency communication system work properly in all situations?
If communication systems are vehicle-based, what arrangements are there to cover the worker when he or she is away from the vehicle?
The location of the work
Is the work in a remote location that makes immediate rescue or attendance of emergency services difficult?
What is likely to happen if there is a vehicle breakdown?
The nature of the work
What machinery, tools and equipment may be used?
Are high risk activities involved? For example work at heights, work with electricity, hazardous substances or hazardous plant.
Is fatigue likely to increase risk (for example, with long hours driving a vehicle or operating machinery)?
Is there an increased risk of violence or aggression when workers have to deal with clients or customers by themselves?
Can environmental factors affect the safety of the worker? For example, exposure to extreme hot or cold environment?
Is there risk of attack by an animal, including reptiles, insects and sea creatures?
The skills and capabilities of the worker
What is the worker’s level of work experience and training? Is the worker able to make sound judgements about his or her own safety?
Are you aware of a pre-existing medical condition that may increase risk?
Controlling the risks
Buddy system – some jobs present such a high level of risk that workers should not
work alone, for example jobs where there is a risk of violence or where high-powered
tools or equipment may be used.
Workplace layout and design – workplaces and their surrounds can be designed to
reduce the likelihood of violence, for example by installing physical barriers, monitored
CCTV and enhancing visibility.
Communication systems – the type of system chosen will depend on the distance from
the base and the environment in which the worker will be located or through which he or
she will be travelling. Expert advice and local knowledge may be needed to assist with
the selection of an effective communication system.
Movement records – knowing where workers are expected to be can assist in
controlling the risks, for example call-in systems with supervisors or colleagues. Satellite
tracking systems or devices may also have the capability of sending messages as part of
a scheduled call-in system, and have distress or alert functions.
Training, information and instruction – as a PCBU you have a duty to provide
information, training and instruction suitable for the nature and risks of the work and the
controls being put in place to manage the risks. Workers need training to prepare them
for working alone and, where relevant, in remote locations. For example training in
dealing with potentially aggressive clients, using communications systems, administering
first aid, obtaining emergency assistance, driving off-road vehicles or bush survival.
First aid – as a PCBU you have specific obligations under the WHS Regulations in
relation to first aid requirements in the workplace. Further guidance regarding first aid
and supplying first aid kits is located in the Code of Practice: First aid in the workplace.
If a worker is working alone in a workplace that has a telephone, communication via the
telephone is adequate, provided the worker is able to reach the telephone in an emergency.
In situations where a telephone is not available or may not be accessible during an
emergency, a method of communication that will allow a worker to call for help in the event
of an emergency at any time should be provided, for example:
Personal security systems or personal duress systems – being wireless and
portable, these systems are suitable for people who move between different work
locations such as health care workers visiting clients or security guards checking
otherwise deserted workplaces. Personal security systems need to be able to activate an
appropriate safety response. Some personal security systems include a non-movement
sensor that will automatically activate an alarm transmission if the transmitter or
transceiver has not moved within a certain time.
Radio communication systems – enable communication between two mobile users in
different vehicles or from a mobile vehicle and a fixed station. These systems are
dependent upon a number of factors such as frequency, power and distance from or
Satellite communication systems – enable communication with workers in
geographically remote locations. Satellite phones allow voice transmission during transit,
but their operation can be affected by damage to aerials, failure of vehicle power
supplies or vehicle damage.
Distress beacons – can provide pinpoint location and to indicate by activation that an
emergency exists. Distress beacons include Emergency Position Indicating Radio
Beacons (EPIRB) used in ships and boats, Emergency Locator Transmitters (ELT) used
in aircraft and Personal Locator Beacons (PLB) for personal use.
Mobile phones – cannot be relied upon as an effective means of communication in
many locations. Coverage in the area where the worker will work should be confirmed
before work starts. Geographical features may impede the use of mobile phones,
especially at the edge of the coverage area, and different models have different
capabilities in terms of effective range from the base station. Consult the provider if there
is doubt about the capability of a particular phone to sustain a signal for the entire period
the worker is alone. If gaps in coverage are likely, other methods of communication
should be considered. It is important that batteries are kept charged and a spare is
All States have agreed to implement the Model Work Health and Safety Regulations and first stage Model Codes of Practice by 1 January 2012 in accordance with the Intergovernmental Agreement. The Model Work Health and Safety Regulations and Decision RIS are now available on the Safe Work Australia website.