If working in remote areas, there are a number of concerns that need to be addressed. Being informed and aware of the hazards can help you plan and take steps to mitigate the risk. If something goes wrong in a remote area, help will take longer to reach you. Being prepared is the key to survival.
Concepts are discussed here mainly in the context of prospecting but the messages are universal.
Know the forecast
Western Australia’s harsh conditions at certain times of the year can mean extremes in temperature, violent storms, rain, flooding and cyclonic events. Those unfamiliar with working in a region can be caught out by its unique climatic conditions (e.g. violent summer storms). This can affect working conditions, road and emergency access, and, ultimately, the viability of travelling through or operating in the area.
The relative ease with which people can travel from mild climates to mining operations can expose workers to extreme variability in temperature and humidity. This can be especially hazardous for those who are unprepared or unwell.
While high temperatures and humidity are obviously risk factors, other contributing factors are:
- physical demands of tasks
- degree of acclimatisation
- health status, with the risk increasing if the person
- is over 60 years of age
- is overweight
- has heart disease or high blood pressure
- takes medications that may be affected by extreme heat
- is under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.
Wherever possible, avoid exposure to extreme heat, sun and humidity. Where this is not possible, take precautions. There is an abundance of online information on how this might be done. An acclimatisation schedule can help reduce the effects of heat stress.
Be aware of the forecast for your area. Visit the Bureau of Meteorology for weather bulletins, meteorological observations and warnings.
Bush fires and floods
In many areas of Western Australia, bush fires can be a seasonal or year-round hazard, while flooding is seasonal or related to cyclone activity. For remote mine sites or exploration camps away from regional centres or near communities with little infrastructure, these external threats can be challenging. There is the risk of loss of services and infrastructure, loss of production and a threat to lives.
An emergency plan is required, including how the site might be evacuated should the need arise.
To keep up to date with the latest information, visit the Department of Fire and Emergency Services.
For sites in the northern parts of Australia, the North Australian Fire Information website provides a information on fires, including fire spread and conditions, as well as a library of resources.
The Bureau of Meteorology WA Warnings Summary provides warnings about fire weather, floods, cyclones, severe thunderstorms and severe weather.
Other resources such as Shire offices, land owners and nearby operations can provide local information (e.g. burn offs).
Further information: A total fire ban can be declared due to extreme weather conditions or when widespread fires are stretching firefighting resources. The ban includes all open air fires for the purpose of cooking or camping, in addition to incinerators, welding, grinding, soldering or gas cutting activities. Exemptions can be applied for.
For more information on total fire bans and exemptions, visit the Department of Fire and Emergency Services.
Accessing a remote work area may not be as easy as using a gazetted road. Permission should be sought to use private roads and tracks or establish new ones through land that is not held. Existing roads may be unsuitable for the vehicles being used because of their weight or width, and the potential to damage services or infrastructure.
A track visible on an aerial image or map may have been modified, abandoned, or not used regularly and therefore in a state of disrepair. Always check with the landowner regarding ground, road and track conditions, stock and vehicle movements, planned burn-offs, or mining and exploration activities.
Visitors to the work area (e.g. drill rig fitter) also need to clearly understand how to appropriately access the site. There should be clearly marked access on the ground or an escort provided.
In emergencies, there should be recognised areas where people can muster and the egress routes should be known.
As telecommunication networks may not cover the area you are in, the use of satellite-based devices are strongly encouraged. This should form part of a multi-layered approach to communication. Some examples are:
- radio communications (where appropriate)
- satellite phones
- distress beacons and personal locator beacons (PLBs)
- personal satellite tracking devices.
Extensive information on beacons is available from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.
Other factors to consider are:
- communications devices should be present in camp, in vehicles and on people if they are away from either of these areas
- there should be an established communications procedure between work groups and the main camp, operation or point of contact
- set times of contact (scheduled calls) and a plan that is agreed to if the schedule is not met
- do not store all your communications devices in a common area in case fire (or another event) destroys your only means of communication.
Supplies and logistics
Whether for a short trip or running an exploration program, equipment will need to be mobilised, samples and rubbish removed, and the camp and plant re-supplied.
If based out of a remote community, pastoral station or small town, resources like fuel, water and food may be limited. Delivery services may be at set times and restocking of the community may be insufficient. It is best to communicate with the landowner, Shire and business owners in the area to ensure your needs can be met. Also consider business hours and setting up possible after-hours access.
Vehicles and machinery should be maintained and checked regularly (e.g. pre-start), and confirmed as fit-for-purpose before leaving. The vehicle or machinery should be appropriate for the terrain and task, as should the workers’ competency.
There should be enough water and food for the number of workers present.
Nature of work
Working in a remote location exposes workers to a range of hazards associated with the type of activity undertaken. Workers are also exposed to the risk of working alone. The remoteness of the location is an added layer of complication when resolving issues or getting help.
Out there! National guidelines for working alone, overseas or in a remote locality (second edition) can be ordered from the Commonwealth Safety Management Forum.
Comcare has a Guide to remote or isolated work.
It is important to have an emergency plan in place should something go wrong, be it a fire, injured worker or a lost site visitor.
For further information, go to Emergency response plans
Below is the list of documents that you may find useful.