Ageing, Disability & Home Care

Home and Community Care - Work safety
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Working alone or in isolation

Workers of home and community care organisations are often required to work alone in external locations, sometimes in isolation. This means:

  • working alone: to work at a site as the only worker of the employer or contractor at that site
  • working in isolation: the person is working away from access to rapid support from the organisation or emergency services
  • working in an external location: the worker is working in a physical environment that is not under the direct control of the employer

Policy and procedures

You should develop policies and procedures for working alone and/or in isolation which identify common risks and note your approach to minimising them.  These policies may be included in other organisational policies or stand alone.  ADHC has developed a Working at external locations procedure which can be used for guidance.

Risk managing working alone and/or in isolation

Manage the risks of working alone and/or in isolation using the same approach as any other risk:

  1. Identify
  2. Assess
  3. Eliminate/Control
  4. Monitor

Identify the risks

At referral, ask questions to identify risks to your workers.  Any risks identified can be magnified by a person working alone.  Consider whether it is safe for your workers to work alone, or whether two workers are needed to reduce the risks.

At this stage, you will also be able to identify whether the work will be conducted in isolation.  This usually occurs in a rural setting, where clients are living out of town.  Risks associated with travelling between these locations must be identified for these cases.

Use tools such as Safety Behaviours for Home Visits - self assessment and Home safety check to identify hazards for workers working alone. You can also review previous incidents, client records or public information to identify risks:

  • Have there been incidents where the worker being alone contributed to the incident/severity of outcome?
  • Is there a pattern to incidents with the particular client, for example, time of day, type of work?
  • Is there a cluster of incidents in a geographical location?
  • Have workers had any near misses when working alone?
  • Do crime statistics suggest an area or time of day to be of higher risk?
  • Does the motoring association or state government have data on motor vehicle accidents for the roads being travelled?
  • Does your mobile phone service provider have coverage maps available?

 Assess the risks

Assess risks associated with the client, the environment, the location and travel.  How will your worker being alone impact on those risks?  Use a risk assessment priority table to assess the likelihood and severity associated with the identified risks.  The Working alone and/or in isolation- Disability Safe website  has a number of tools to assist in assessing these risks, including Working at external locations risk assessment checklist, home and venue assessments.

Control the risk

Following are some common controls you should consider:

  • Consider using two workers to provide the service
  • Ensure the most suitable worker for the job is chosen considering the client’s circumstances and the worker’s experience
  • Consider scheduling of the job to ensure it is performed at lowest risk time
  • Implement a communication procedure which includes:
  • Implement a vehicle policy / procedure, particularly for workers driving on country roads, which includes:
    • Requirement for regular checks on condition of the vehicle
    • Provision of first aid kit
    • Membership with roadside assistance
    • Check of drivers licence
    • Insurance
    • Monitoring road conditions
    • Scheduling of work to minimise driver fatigue
  •  Implement a training program for staff working alone, including:
    • policies and procedures for working alone/in isolation
    • emergency procedures
    • vehicle and safe driving procedures
    • responding to suspicious or escalating behaviour
    • first aid training
  • Provide personal alarms such as back to base duress alarms

When considering appropriate controls, use the risk control hierarchy to ensure all possible actions are considered (see Risk Control).  Remember, more than one control is likely to be required to adequately address the risk of working alone and/or in isolation.  It is also important to consult with your workers when determining controls.

Document your controls in a risk control plan. For each control decide on the following:

  • the actions required to get the controls in place
  • who is responsible for the actions
  • timeframes to do the actions
  • date to review the risk control

Monitor and review

It is important to monitor and review the effectiveness of the controls, to check that the risk control is working and has not created any other hazards.  Review:
  • hazard report forms
  • incident data
  • worker and volunteer reports

Schedule regular worksite safety inspections and encourage workers to check the situation each visit and let you know when the situation changes.

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