Health Workplace Safety in remote Australia

Page last updated: 15 May 2017

Remote health workforce safety and security has been a long-standing concern for all governments and employers.

In response to the March 2016 murder of remote area nurse, Ms Gayle Woodford in the remote community of Fregon in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands in South Australia, the Federal Coalition invested in the development of resources for health practitioners working in remote locations to mitigate risks to their personal safety as they undertake their daily duties.

“The Federal Coalition has supported states and territories by investing more than $240,000 to the Council of Remote Area Nurses of Australia (CRANAplus) to develop resources to improve safety and security for the remote area health workforce.” Dr Gillespie said.

“While Occupational Health and Safety issues predominantly fall with the jurisdictions of states and territories, I am pleased the Commonwealth has been able to assist through the provision of these funds so that CRANAplus could develop these resources."

Funding provided to CRANAplus was for the development of:

  • The National Safety and Security Guidelines for Remote Health Practice, endorsed by an expert advisory group and informed by national conversation;
  • the Remote Health Workforce Safety & Security Report: Literature Review, Consultation, & Survey Results;
  • an Industry Handbook on ‘working safe in remote health’ which will be published and freely distributed through the CRANAplus networks;
  • an easy to use safety and security ‘self-assessment tool’ downloadable from the CRANAplus website for individuals or workplaces, promoting practical quality improvements in the workplace;
  • a free e-remote learning module on working safe in remote practice to be hosted and encouraged to be used by employers during staff orientation; and
  • a mobile phone app to include the ‘being safe in remote’ information.
The CRANAplus report, the Remote Health Workforce Safety & Security Report: Literature Review, Consultation, & Survey Results was provided to the Department of Health in January 2017. The Report makes 31 recommendations, of which it identified six key issues: staff assault; vehicle and travel safety; emergency communication; dog attack; bullying and harassment; and personal wellbeing.

The Report will inform the development of other funded activities. CRANAplus will soon release the National Safety and Security Guidelines for Remote Health Practice.

Workforce safety is a broad issue that has long been a concern for employers. It is not restricted to health workers or to remote areas although isolation is a compounding factor. Commonwealth funded entities are required to satisfy relevant laws and regulations to ensure that their operations meet the necessary standards of care and service provision.

A large number of policy documents and guidelines on preventing and minimising workplace violence already exist at state/territory/national and international levels. While the content varies, the documents tend to offer generalist advice to enable managers to develop workplace violence policies that address prevention, response and recovery as opposed to providing prescriptive violence prevention. Strategies include: education/training; communication procedures when working offsite; support post incident; employee assistance programs; and mentoring support. Safety of health professionals is primarily a responsibility of employers and jurisdictions.

While the Commonwealth provides funding to states and territories for remote area health services, it does not directly employ, or set the working conditions for remote area health staff.