We consistently hear concerns from Community Health Workers that they often travel through or work in areas that have poor or no mobile telephone reception. The quality of service in a particular area will often vary between the different service providers.
Of particular concern voiced by workers is how they obtain assistance should they be faced with an emergency, i.e. personal threat, vehicle breakdown (in an isolated area) or accident.
Generally, mobile phone users (in Australia) are aware they can dial 000 in the event of an emergency however, many may not be aware that if they are using a GSM mobile phone and are out of range of their contracted provider (e.g. Telstra, Optus etc), by dialling 112 (not 000) they should be connected to
Emergency Services on another carrier’s service if available even if the phone is locked or the SIM is removed. (112 service is not available on CDMA phones where the emergency number remains 000). It may be prudent to program 112into the speed dial of GSM mobile telephones to prevent any confusion and delays in obtaining help.
Due to terrain or total lack of services there are however circumstances where even this may not be sufficient in the event of requiring assistance in an emergency.
There are also the times where non emergency communication is required including field workers advising the “base” of departure or arrival at client premises. It is important that the “base” knows not only which clients are being visited on any day but good communication is essential for the “base” to undertake welfare checks on its field staff.
Reliable communication for routine safety management (e.g. staff advising “base” of arrival and departure at a client’s residence) and emergency communication (e.g. personal threats to field workers) are OHS issues and require appropriate management action (e.g. technology, policy, training and emergency response capabilities).
There is however good news. There are options available particularly for those who have to travel through areas where there is little or no telephone communications. One option which should be assessed by management is the use of satellite telephones.
The cost of satellite telephones has reduced considerably; in addition, the Australian Government’s Department of Communications Information Technology and the Arts offers eligible users a “Satellite Phone Subsidy Scheme”.
The scheme has been developed for people working or living in areas beyond GSM or CDMA terrestrial mobile coverage.
The amount of subsidy depends on the monthly access. The scheme can provide up to 80 percent of the retail price, with a maximum of $1500 (including GST). This Scheme started in 2002 and has been extended to 2007.
There are seven participating satellite phone service providers to choose from.
To be eligible: You must be an Australian citizen, or permanent resident or be a registered business in Australia. You must live, work, or operate a business in an area not served by a current terrestrial mobile service or where a terrestrial mobile phone service is not planned for introduction within 12 months of the application.
Amongst those eligible are community groups and not-for-profit organisations.
Not eligible are persons who live and work in Western Australia. (However, if you live outside WA and work within it, or live in WA and work outside it, you may apply).
For further information and to see if you or your organisation is eligible click here.
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