Lone working legislation in Australia
For many organisations, lone working increases productivity, flexibility and allows businesses to operate on a wider scale. However, despite this, there are a number of risks that pose a threat to lone working staff. Lone workers do not have access to immediate help should an accident occur which often makes their roles more dangerous than office-based jobs. If a lone worker suffers a fall, is attacked by an assailant or has a medical accident and is unable to call for help, they could be seriously harmed.
So how can you ensure that your lone working staff are protected whilst at work? In this article, we’ll discuss the main risks and hazards associated with lone working, the Health and Safety legislation in Australia and some different scenarios where lone working may be considered unsafe.
What is classed as lone working?
Lone working is when work activities are carried out without the direct and immediate support of supervisors or colleagues. To put it simply, if an employee cannot be seen or heard by a colleague, they are lone working, whether that is for all or part of their working day.
What does the term ‘Isolated worker’ mean?
An isolated worker is another way to describe a lone worker. According to the Government of Western Australia; “a worker can be isolated from other persons by the time, location or nature of the work. ‘Isolated’ usually refers to a person who is alone in any place as part of their work”.
Is it legal to work alone in Australia?
It is not against the law to work alone in Australia. Working alone is completely legal and in most cases it is safe to do so. However, a risk assessment should be carried out on lone working activities so employers can assess and mitigate any potential dangers to their staff.
Does the law differ between states in Australia?
Each territory has its own Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws and its own regulator to enforce them. The WHS framework for each state includes:
Act – outlines broad responsibilities.
Regulations – sets out specific requirements for particular hazards and risks, such as noise, machinery, and manual handling.
Codes of practice – provides practical information on how you can meet the requirements in the Act and Regulations.
Regulating agency – administers WHS laws, inspects workplaces, provides advice and enforces the laws
Although each state has variations, each territory must adhere to their Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH) or Work Health and Safety Act (WHS). Details of each can be found here.
OSH and WHS Acts in Australia by territory
- Australian Capital Territory – Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (ACT)
- New South Wales – Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (NSW)
- Northern Territory – Work Health and Safety (National Uniform Legislation) Act 2011 (NT)
- Queensland – Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Qld)
- South Australia – Work Health and Safety Act 2012 (SA)
- Tasmania – Work Health and Safety Act 2012 (Tas)
- Victoria – Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (Vic)
- Western Australia – Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984 (WA)
- Commonwealth Australia –Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Cwth)
What is the OSH Act?
The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OHS), along with the Work Health and Safety Act (WHS) are the legislations that govern Work Health and Safety practices in Australia. Each territory has their own version, but each covers similar guidance to ensure a balanced and consistent framework for health and safety practices in their area. The OSH Act applies to Victoria (2004) and Western Australia (1984).
According to the Australian Government website; “Work Health and Safety (WHS) – sometimes called Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S) – involves the management of risks to the health and safety of everyone in your workplace. This includes the health and safety of anyone who does work for you as well as your customers, visitors and suppliers. Not taking action could also result in prosecution, fines and loss of your skilled staff”.
What is the WHS Act?
As with the OSH Acts, the Workplace Health and Safety Acts (WHS) are there to provide a balanced and nationally consistent framework to secure the health and safety of workers and workplaces. A variation of the WHS Act applies to all states except for Victoria and Western Australia, where it is called the Occupational and Health Act (OHS).
What is Safe Work Australia?
Safe Work Australia develops policy for Work Health and Safety and workers’ compensation – helping to improve WHS across Australia. Safe Work Australia does not regulate or enforce WHS laws. State and territory governments regulate and enforce the health and safety laws in their jurisdiction.
What is the law on lone working?
A lone working employee is still subject to all the requirements stated within the WHS and OSH Acts relevant for their state. As working alone can put an employee at higher risk due to not being under direct supervision in an emergency, it is especially important to ensure that any lone workers are risk assessed, provided with adequate safety equipment and communicated with regularly.
Section 3.3 of the Occupational Safety and Health Regulations (1996) requires that:
Isolated employees to have communication for emergencies. If an employee is isolated from other persons because of the time, location or nature of the work then the employer must ensure that —
(a) there is a means of communication available which will enable the employee to call for help in the event of an emergency; and
(b) there is a procedure for regular contact to be made with the employee and the employee is trained in the procedure.
Alongside this, employers should also implement their own regulations to help ensure the safety of their lone workers.
These could include:
- Conducting thorough lone worker risk assessments
- Producing a written health and safety policy and ensuring all employees understand it
- Taking steps to reduce or eliminate risk in order to create a safe working environment
- Providing information, instructions, lone worker training and supervision where appropriate
- Regularly reviewing and improving upon lone worker risk assessments and policies
WorkSafe Queensland have produced a video which covers the issues facing lone and isolated workers
Can employers legally ask someone to work a night shift alone?
Employers can legally require one person to work overnight alone. Security guards regularly monitor buildings alone throughout the night, whilst other roles such as hotel receptionists or petrol station attendants may work alone out of hours. Employees who work in these roles may be seen as easy targets for threats, such as theft or violence, and extra precautions should be put in place.
Is it legal for an apprentice to work alone?
It is legal for an apprentice to work alone if it is safe to do so. Employers have the same responsibilities to apprentices as they do any other employee. Therefore, they hold a primary responsibility for the health and safety of the apprentice and are required to carry out risk assessments and manage any potential threats.
Are you allowed to work alone in a factory?
Working alone in a factory is also allowed. However, the job role being carried out alone in the factory should be taken into consideration. For example, if operating machinery, you must ensure it is suitable for one person to do this alone. You should also take into consideration how an alarm can be raised in an emergency and what the response time is likely to be.
Are you allowed to work alone in a shop?
Working alone in a shop is common practice. Extra safety measures should be taken however, as lone shop workers can become easy targets for robberies and other crimes. A risk assessment must also be carried out and consider the local crime rates, employee training levels and what emergency procedures are in place.
What are the main risks and hazards that lone workers face?
According to Safe Work Australia, remote or isolated workers may be isolated from help because of where or when they are working, or the nature of the work they are doing.
“For example, they may be working in locations or at times where it would be difficult for them to be rescued, get medical assistance or be reached by emergency services. Workers may face additional WHS risks if nobody else is around to help with difficult tasks, alert them to hazards or give a second opinion about how to safely do a task or notice if they are fatigued or making mistakes”.
Certain environments also increase the risk to employees, particularly those in which customers may become upset, aggressive or take advantage of a lone worker. Environments where alcohol, gambling and/or money are involved, as well as sensitive social work, can cause sudden mood changes and hostile behaviour.
Utility workers often operate in rural areas, underground or with dangerous machinery and face environmental risks. If an accident were to happen, they may not be able to call for help. Similarly, staff who travel to different locations as part of their role may not be able to notify managers should an accident happen whilst on the road.
In some environments, no matter how stringent the risk assessment or safety measures put in place, the risk is too great to allow for lone working.
So, how can an employer reduce the risk for people who work alone?
Lone Worker Risk Assessments
The first and most important step in determining whether your employees are safe to work alone is carrying out a thorough risk assessment for each employee/environment as appropriate.
If the risks identified through the process are too high or uncontrollable, you must not let your employees work alone under any circumstance.
If, however, steps can be taken to reduce risk to a controllable level, in line with legislation, it may be safe to allow your employees to work alone, following the implementation of a lone worker policy.
What is a lone worker policy? How do you know if your workers are safe?
A lone worker policy is a guide that sets out your companies’ rules on working alone and helps your employees to understand the risks of their role. It also provides your staff with practical advice and instruction on how to safely carry out their roles and what procedures to follow should an incident occur.
A regular review of both your risk assessments and lone worker policy will help you identify whether your lone workers are safe. You may also wish to carry out inspections to ensure safe work practices are being followed.
Monitoring employees using Lone Worker Apps
Being able to monitor your employee’s whereabouts is extremely important in keeping them safe, as accidents can occur at any time. Regular communications should be maintained with lone working staff and procedures put in place so that employees can quickly communicate with their employer and raise the alarm if needed.
Manual methods of monitoring can be time-consuming, unreliable and often include a large amount of paperwork. Significant advances in mobile technology have led many companies to switch to app-based lone worker solutions to help them monitor and protect their remote staff.
StaySafe is an easy-to-use app and online monitoring hub that offers a way for lone workers to raise an alarm in a dangerous situation. StaySafe monitors the location of lone workers in real-time via the StaySafe hub so that assistance can be sent directly to an employee in an emergency.
Before a period of lone work or travel, employees start a timed session on the app which can be viewed by a monitor on the cloud-based hub. If an employee fails to end their lone working session safely, a session expiry alert will be sent to their employer or chosen monitor.
The app features check-in reminders which prompt users to check-in routinely to confirm that they are safe. If a worker finds themselves in a dangerous situation, they can trigger a panic alert and help can be quickly dispatched to their location.
To find out more about how employers in Australia use the StaySafe app to keep their staff protected, click here.
Lone worker apps and solutions
One way to help remote and lone workers engage with health and safety procedures is to implement a lone worker app, such as StaySafe. Lone worker apps help you to protect and monitor your employees whilst they work, travel or meet with clients alone or in remote locations.
Typically lone worker apps have a range of functions including panic button, GPS location, timed sessions, man down alerts and check-ins. Employee activity and the location of staff whilst at work is monitored via a cloud based hub where employers can respond to any alerts or through external 24/7 monitoring. If an employee fails to check in safely during a lone working session, has an accident or raises an alert, you can locate them and get help straight away.
Lone worker apps are particularly suitable in the current climate because of how well they lend themselves to being trialled, rolled out and utilised by staff remotely. Apps can be downloaded directly onto employees’ phones without the need for any additional equipment being delivered.
If employees are encouraged to use the app daily, health and safety will be at the forefront of their minds whenever they begin work. Lone working apps, such as StaySafe, enable you to fulfil your ‘duty of care’ to your employees and enhance your reputation as a responsible employer. Implementing health and safety procedures will also communicate a positive message to staff that the organisation is looking out for their safety.