Safety in fieldwork

1.  Introduction

This policy contains elements of Guidance on Safety in Fieldwork, published by the Universities Safety and Health Association in association with the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, and covers the safe management of fieldwork activities. It also sets out the University’s legal responsibilities towards staff, students, and others that may be affected by the University’s activities.

(a)   Applicability of the policy

For the purpose of this policy, fieldwork is defined as practical work carried out by University staff or students for the purpose of teaching and/or research in places that are not under University control, but where the University is responsible for the safety of its staff, students and others exposed to their activities. It includes medical elective placements, but voluntary and leisure activities are excluded along with work experience placements and activities controlled by other employers.

The policy applies to work carried out both in the UK and overseas and much of it is aimed at “traditional” fieldwork, such as surveying and specimen collecting by geologists, biologists, and zoologists, with an emphasis on student activities. Much of the sections on Supervision and Training and Conduct of Fieldwork will not be applicable to fieldwork in the humanities and social sciences[1], unless the location of the work itself presents dangers (e.g. from criminal, political, or other activity). Nevertheless the general principles of planning, risk assessment, provision of information and training, health protection, and insurance apply to all fieldwork, from social survey interviews to scuba diving, whether carried out by staff or students in the UK or overseas.

University Policy Statement UPS S3/07 covers the travel aspects of overseas work in more detail, especially in relation to travel insurance and the advice issued by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).

(b)   Legal background

The University has a number of important duties towards its staff and students:

(i)  It has a duty to provide a safe system of work for all staff and to ensure that no person is harmed by the conduct of its undertaking[2] (Sections 2 and 3 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 (HASAWA)).

(ii)  It owes a common law duty of care to staff and students and it must take all reasonable steps to provide for their safety in the context of its undertaking (failure to discharge this duty may give rise to a claim for negligence).

(iii)  It has a contractual duty to staff, via their contracts of employment, to provide for their safety in the context of its undertaking.

(iv)  There is likely to be a contractual relationship between the University and individual students and it is likely that a court would regard reasonable safety provision as an implied term in this contract.

The duties imposed by HASAWA Sections 2 and 3 must be achieved “as far as reasonably practicable” and it will not always be either necessary or possible to eliminate all risk in order to discharge this duty. This standard is also applicable to the common law duty and, most probably, to any express or implied contractual duty.

These duties and those imposed by other regulations require the risks associated with fieldwork to be assessed and managed in the same way as any other University activity.

(c)   Overseas fieldwork

In the case of overseas fieldwork, the legal position is not straightforward. The HASAWA applies only to the conduct of undertakings within the UK or its territorial waters. It is conceivable that an incident overseas that arises out of failures of planning and risk assessment carried out in the UK may be seen as a breach of UK safety legislation. Case law shows that employees based in the UK, but who are sent abroad intermittently to work, continue to be protected by UK civil law.

Safety arrangements abroad may also be subject to any local legislation, which may be more or less demanding than UK legislation. Within the EU, safety legislation has been harmonised and national legislation is likely to be broadly similar to UK legislation. In other countries it may be difficult or impossible, e.g. because of language difficulties, to find details of any applicable legislation. However, it should still be possible for the planning and risk assessment process to take account of cultural differences that might affect the outcome of any incident (e.g. differences in responses to incidents or in enforcement attitudes).

Because of the uncertain legal position, it is University policy that a similar standard of care must be applied to the planning, risk assessment and execution of overseas fieldwork as would be required for work in the UK.

Where a host institution controls the work then they will usually have their own safety standards and policies, which University members should comply with. It would help the risk assessment process if these were available in advance of any visit.

(d)   Overseas travel

UPS S3/07 sets out the requirements for risk assessment for travel overseas, with particular reference to countries or areas where the FCO advises against travel.

(e)   Planning, risk assessment, and the management of fieldwork

The head of department is responsible for ensuring that adequate fieldwork planning is carried out, including assessments of the risks that need to be managed during fieldwork, and for ensuring that safe working procedures have been established for all staff and students.

He/she should ensure that:

(i)  there will be adequate supervision

(ii)  supervisors are competent under the circumstances likely to be encountered and have adequate first aid or other relevant training, if risk assessments identify a need for it

(iii)  all fieldworkers are adequately prepared

(iv)  suitable lines of communication with fieldworkers are available and accidents are reported and investigated.

The head of department will usually delegate responsibility for planning and risk assessment to the person who is organising the fieldwork. If this is the case, then the head must be satisfied that the organiser is competent to do this and has sufficient awareness of their legal obligations to the participants.

The aim of risk assessment is first to identify all the hazards associated with the work and then to assess the risk that these hazards present under the circumstances of the work. This should identify areas where action can be taken to reduce the risk to an acceptable level. University Policy Statement S5/08 deals with the general principles of risk assessment and the checklists in this policy can be used to address specific areas.

It is helpful to consider three types of risk when planning fieldwork:

(i)  universal risks, applicable to all fieldwork (e.g. general travel-related risks)

(ii)  generic risks, applicable to all fieldwork of that type (e.g. related to mountain walking, diving or caving)

(iii)  specific risks that apply to particular locations (e.g. reflecting the presence of local danger at a fieldwork site, or travel-related risks applying to a particular country).

Besides these external factors, risk assessments should consider the knowledge, experience, and skills of the participants, and whether they have any special needs or vulnerabilities.

The amount of time spent on planning and the degree of detail recorded in the risk assessment needs to be proportionate to the inherent danger present in the fieldwork. For instance, it is sensible to make simple generic assessments for routine, well-supervised visits to low risk areas. But more extensive planning and assessment would be required for a group planning an extended stay in a wilderness area, or for work in areas where there may be a risk to personal safety because of criminal or political activity. Past experience of the worker in his/her proposed activity will have a major bearing on the perceived level of risk and the composition of the risk assessment should reflect this.

There should always be a contingency plan for reasonably foreseeable emergencies, taking into account the likely hazards of the environment and the type of work undertaken. As part of this plan, departmental administrators should retain a record of:

(i)  the work involved

(ii)  the workers involved

(iii)  their itinerary and return times

(iv)  their contact details.

For overseas work, in particular, it is prudent for the department to retain passport and visa details, and the names and addresses of next of kin.

(f)   Provision of information

Staff and students undertaking fieldwork must be fully informed of the nature of the work, the associated hazards, and their control measures. This is a legal requirement but it also has other functions, e.g. it allows them to identify any medical problems that might affect their ability to carry out certain types of fieldwork. Early identification of such problems will allow liaison with other interested parties (e.g. the Disability Co-ordinator or the University Occupational Health Service) to ensure they are suitably resolved.

The extent of the information that needs to be provided will depend on the pre-existing knowledge, experience, and skills of the participants. Heads of departments must be satisfied that those providing this information are competent to do so and might wish to consider how best to assess and monitor this competency.

(g)   Provision of training

Besides being adequately informed, fieldworkers must be adequately trained. There is a significant difference: for example, fieldwork involving activities such as caving, diving or mountain walking may prove dangerous for the untrained, no matter how well informed they may be. Heads of departments must be satisfied that those providing training are competent to do so and might wish to consider how best to assess and monitor this competency.

(h)   Duties of employees

University employees have a general duty (Section 7, HASAWA) to take reasonable care for their own safety and the safety of those affected by their acts or omissions; and to comply with health and safety arrangements. Therefore fieldwork organisers or supervisors have some personal responsibility to appropriately plan and manage those activities and they may be held personally liable if they are negligent in discharging their duties. Staff participating in fieldwork, but not supervising, must ensure they follow safety instructions and use control measures properly.

There is no such legal obligation on students, but they should be strongly advised to behave in a similar way to employees in this respect. Where they breach safety rules then corrective action should be taken and recorded.

(i)   Insurance

The University holds legal liability insurance policies relevant to fieldwork activities: Employer's Liability, which covers staff acting in the course of their employment (in respect of any death or injury they might suffer for which the University is liable at law) and Public Liability, which covers others. These policies will indemnify the University, and those acting on its behalf, against any third party claim for damages arising from death, personal injury, or third party property damage where there is a liability at law.

Those travelling abroad for a University purpose should also register for the University’s travel insurance. Details of the registration process and a summary of cover are available at

Certain conditions must be met for cover under the travel policy to be valid. In particular, travellers must comply with applicable University safety policies (including this one) and with the travel advice notices issued by the FCO.

(j)   Dealing with the public and the press

Fieldworkers will be seen as representatives of the University. It is important to ensure that the academic purpose of their work is accurately represented and this is best done through a senior representative, so queries should be referred to the supervisor or group leader for comment. Questions from the media should be referred to the University Press Office for comment.

2.   Supervision and training

(a)   Responsibility for safety in fieldwork

Responsibility for the health and safety of participants in fieldwork lies ultimately with the head of department. He/she must ensure that fieldwork supervisors are adequately trained in basic work techniques, possess any necessary skills such as first-aid training, are capable and competent in leading a party in the field and appreciate the hazards and risks involved in the undertaking. Following a risk assessment, the supervisor should devise, discuss, and agree written working procedures with the head of department or his/her appointed representative (e.g. the DSO). These documents should be provided to each field worker and the supervisor should satisfy him/herself that the individual appreciates the significant points, e.g. by using individual or group briefings.

(b)   Fieldwork supervision

The following comments are generally directed at work involving students, who may be less experienced and therefore more vulnerable than staff working in the same environment. The same principles apply where staff members are involved, though a risk assessment may reflect the need here for less stringent precautions, because of their maturity, greater expertise, or better training.

Head of department usually delegate to the organisers of fieldwork (in most cases the academic supervisor) the responsibility for ensuring that adequate safety arrangements exist and that fieldworkers observe them. Where appropriate, organisers may appoint one or more leaders to act on their behalf in the field. This may be necessary when parties split into sub-groups or when a person other than the academic supervisor has more experience of a locality or work process. Leaders need not necessarily be University employees (e.g. they may be boat skippers, diving supervisors, mountain guides, or site foremen) and because there can be confusion in such cases the identity of the designated leader should always be made clear, e.g. in written instructions or safety briefings. For the duration of the fieldwork, the designated leader is responsible for ensuring all safety precautions are observed. Individuals must understand that they must observe any instruction given them by the leader and bring any safety issues to their attention.

The department should always be aware of fieldworkers’ activities. A plan of work, which includes the proposed itinerary and timetable, should be deposited with the departmental office and updated as necessary. If the work is in a remote or hazardous environment, then wherever possible a detailed and accurate itinerary should be left with a suitable person (e.g. a hotel owner) or organisation (e.g. police, coast guard, mountain rescue team). Suitable response procedures should be devised in advance of the trip to deal with late or non-arrival back at the fieldwork base and participants should be made aware of the course of action that will then be taken.

Supervision levels for field trips will vary: an inexperienced group of first year students will require more than postgraduates. While fieldwork cannot usually be as closely supervised as other activities, the level of supervision must be adequate for a given situation. Three common situations are:

  • fully supervised courses
  • field expeditions
  • lone working.

(i)  Fully supervised courses

These will normally be of short duration (a working day or less) and conducted in low hazard environments. Visits to tidal zones, rugged terrain, industrial sites, or urban localities for sample collection or observation will carry associated risks that should be assessed beforehand.

Participants may be inexperienced, so they should not normally be allowed to work alone and must not be intentionally exposed to hazardous situations. Safety instruction should be an integral part of the course and they should be made aware of any local rules applying to industrial or commercial sites. Careful thought should be given to the staff/student ratio, which must be appropriate to the activities undertaken and the nature of the site being visited. Each group should have an experienced staff member as leader supported by other experienced staff (e.g. technical or postdoctoral staff) where possible, or by other suitable appointed supervisors (e.g. postgraduate students of appropriate experience and maturity). Adequate deputising provision should be made for the leader (and the driver, if necessary) in case of incapacity.

Maximum and minimum party sizes should be set, bearing in mind the environment, the activity to be undertaken, and any foreseeable emergencies. Parties of more than 15 inexperienced people may be difficult to manage in rugged country and, generally speaking, a ratio of ten inexperienced students to one experienced staff member is appropriate. In the case of an accident or injury, having a sub-group of at least four people will allow one person to stay with the casualty while two others go for help.

(ii)  Field expeditions

Expeditions may be prolonged and take place in environments that are remote and potentially hazardous. Participants will normally be experienced and/or will have received instruction in work techniques and safety procedures. The leader of such a trip must be adequately trained in the necessary skills, which may include survival, communication, and navigational techniques. He/she should be aware of local hazards and conditions and be familiar with the precautions to be taken where the terrain is particularly hostile (e.g. glaciers, rock faces) or where dangerous animals, diseases, or hazardous substances may be present.

The head of department should be satisfied that the leader has the personal capability and competence to lead, especially under adverse conditions. The leader’s authority and responsibilities must be clearly defined and understood by all members of the party and serious consideration should be given to excluding people unable to accept such authority. An adequate number of experienced and trained members of staff should be present, so that suitable deputising arrangements can be made in case of incapacity, or if the party splits up into smaller groups.

(iii)  Lone working

For “traditional” fieldwork (e.g. geological or biological survey work), lone working has been traditionally carried out in mountainous or similarly hazardous areas. Although it is not always possible to avoid it, this type of activity should be discouraged as far as possible and it should be permitted only after a thorough risk assessment has been carried out. This must take into account the nature of the work, the hostility and location of the site, and the experience of the worker. Safe working procedures should be devised in order to reduce risks from foreseeable hazards to an acceptable level. Note that there are situations where lone working is highly inadvisable or contrary to legal requirements (e.g. work in confined spaces, or diving operations).

In most cases the lone worker will be a postgraduate or final year undergraduate student undertaking project work. The student should be involved in the risk assessment process and must be made aware, as far as health and safety is concerned, that the student is still under the supervision of the academic supervisor even though that person will not be present on site.

Departments must formulate clear guidelines on the scope of activities that may be undertaken alone. These should include the types of terrain where these may take place, the supervisory arrangements (including arrangements to determine the whereabouts of a lone worker), emergency plans in case of failure to check in, and the training and experience required.

Because a lone worker may be at greater risk than a group member, an effective means of communication must be planned and established. Checks should be made on lone workers at a frequency and means determined by the risk assessment. They should ensure that their daily itineraries are known locally and that some responsible person (e.g. a hotel owner, or local police) will raise the alarm if they fail to return at the end of their specified working period. In this event, as well as personal injury, the possibility of exhaustion or hypothermia should be considered, although the latter risks should have come to light during the risk assessment and would strongly suggest that lone working is inadvisable.

Before students leave to commence fieldwork, both the supervisor and the department must know their destination, the nature of the work and the estimated time of their return. Students should also advise the department upon completion of the fieldwork.

(c)   Training

It is important that personnel are adequately trained in the skills required for their fieldwork, either beforehand or as part of the work. The training of leaders is particularly important and for some activities it may be appropriate to seek formal qualifications (e.g. in mountain leadership) beyond those directly connected with the work itself.

Where groups work in remote locations, at least two supervising members must be appropriately trained in first aid. If the expedition is a long-term one, or in a particularly remote place, then consideration should be given to training all group members in first aid, survival, and rescue techniques. At least one other member should be qualified to take over should the leader become incapacitated, and at least one reserve driver (or pilot, or boat-handler etc.) should be included in the party. Where activities take place on or near water then consideration must be given to the level of swimming competence of the participants.

3.   Conduct of fieldwork

(a)   Fieldwork trips on foot

Itineraries must be planned carefully and adequate time allowed to meet objectives while allowing for regular breaks. Walking pace and loads carried must be matched to the physical capabilities of the participants, and an experienced person should be at the rear of a party to watch for stragglers.

Leaders will need to be especially vigilant on hostile terrain (e.g. snow slopes, glaciers, rivers, estuaries, mud flats, slippery intertidal rocks) or where participants are inexperienced. They should be alert to the possibility of sudden weather changes and ensure participants are adequately equipped. If skis, snowshoes, ice axes, crampons, ropes, or other specialised items are needed, participants must be adequately trained in their use.

Walkers on roads should face the traffic and wear items of fluorescent clothing by day and reflective clothing at night. Large groups of walkers should use a path, if available.  If one is not, they should walk on the same side of the road as the traffic, and wear items of fluorescent clothing by day and reflective clothing at night.  They should also display white lights to the front and red lights to the rear of the group.

(b)   Use of transport

Vehicles, boats, and aircraft may all be needed on field trips, particularly in remote areas. Risk assessments should take into account the suitability of the chosen method of transport, the prevention of driver/operator fatigue, and the provision of adequate rest periods.

Transport must be properly maintained in compliance with relevant national regulations. In some cases, backup transport will need to be available and sufficient spare parts carried to meet foreseeable emergencies. If loads are carried, they must not be excessively heavy or bulky, dangerously distributed, or improperly secured.

Drivers or pilots must comply with relevant national regulations, must possess appropriate licences, and be in a fit state to drive or fly. Local traffic rules must be observed and seat belts used if available. On water, navigational rules and conventions must be observed and an adequate lookout maintained.

(c)   Equipment

Equipment must be suitable for the conditions of use and should comply with relevant British, European, or International Standards, where appropriate. In the case of hired equipment, it will be necessary to seek confirmation that it complies with such standards and has been properly maintained. Items essential for survival should be duplicated where practicable and duplicate items transported separately.

Safety equipment must be checked and tested before use and at appropriate predetermined intervals during use. If necessary, e.g. for diving or climbing gear, schemes of examination may need to be drawn up and inspections made by competent persons. Damaged equipment must be suitably repaired or taken out of service.

If electricity is to be used during fieldwork, then the provisions of University Policy Statement S4/10 will apply. Reduced voltage (e.g. 110 volts) should be used out of doors, with earth leakage/residual current protection where practicable, and waterproof equipment must be used where appropriate.

Firearms and other items requiring firearms licences (e.g. some types of flare) must be used only by competent, suitably licensed persons and stored safely and securely.

(d)   Protective clothing and personal protective equipment (PPE)

All participants must wear adequate and appropriate protective clothing. PPE should comply with appropriate British, European, and International Standards where practicable. It should be checked regularly, maintained in good condition, and worn correctly as required by University Policy Statement S3/02.

The following types of clothing and PPE should be considered:

  • sun protective clothing
  • warm/weatherproof clothing (for cold/wet conditions)
  • appropriate footwear (for mountainous terrain)
  • foot protection (where there is a risk of crushing or penetrating injuries to the feet)
  • gloves
  • safety helmets
  • eye/face protection
  • hearing protection
  • respiratory protection
  • high visibility clothing
  • wet suits and life jackets.

(e)   Hazardous substances

Suitable and sufficient assessments of risks and adequate arrangements for their control must be made for hazardous substances (e.g. explosives, chemical or biological hazards, radioactive materials) used or encountered in fieldwork. Hazards incidental to the work undertaken or sites visited must also be assessed and controlled (e.g. taking samples from or near rivers might entail exposure to potentially harmful micro-organisms such as Leptospirosis).

Hazardous substances must be handled, so far as is reasonably practicable, with the same degree of care and competence that would be expected in the laboratory. Where practicable, hazards should be eliminated or reduced by substituting less harmful substances. Hazardous substances must be disposed of safely, in accordance with local environmental legislation.

(f)   Excavations and boreholes

Excavations must be carefully planned and made by competent persons, protected against collapse and inspected regularly. Care must be taken to avoid hazards from underground services and spoil tips, sites must be adequately cordoned off, and appropriate warning signs displayed. Risk assessments will need to take into account any dangers from toxic or flammable gases or oxygen depletion. Visitors to such sites must be supplied with adequate safety information and protective clothing.

(g)   Manual handling

Any loads carried must be matched to physical ability. Where it is not reasonably practicable to avoid operations with a risk of injury, a risk assessment must be made and safe working procedures adopted in accordance with University Policy Statement S7/99.

(h)   Mechanical handling

Operators of cranes and hoists must be trained in correct lifting and slinging techniques. Lifting equipment must be suitable for the task, inspected as necessary by competent persons, and safe working loads must not be exceeded. University Policy Statement S3/99 explains the legal requirements for lifting operations.

(i)   Local conditions

The effect of reasonably foreseeable weather conditions should have already been considered and up to date weather forecasts obtained where practicable. Even with the best advance preparation, some refinement of the risk assessment will be needed if weather or other circumstances change, or are not as expected.

A wide range of factors that are only apparent on site may require reassessment of risks or changes to control measures, e.g.

  • extremes of weather
  • unstable rock, soil, ice, or snow conditions
  • crevasses
  • mine shafts, potholes, confined spaces
  • dangerous structures
  • marshes or quicksand
  • intertidal rocks
  • danger of forest or brush fires
  • overhead or buried power lines
  • tides, rough seas, swift currents
  • traffic
  • unexploded ordnance
  • venomous, frisky or aggressive animals.

It may be necessary to consider additional precautions, e.g.

  • appropriate protective clothing
  • provision of shade or shelter
  • provision of maps, compasses, GPS
  • first aid and medical equipment
  • rescue and emergency equipment
  • fixed safety lines, nets, or harnesses
  • posting of lookouts
  • safety boats
  • increased level of supervision
  • mobile or satellite phone, radio, or other communication systems
  • control of sources of ignition
  • permit to work systems (e.g. for confined spaces)
  • gas detection equipment
  • erection of barriers and warning signs.

Workers should take care not to become so engrossed in their tasks that they fail to notice changing conditions, such as weather or tide. They should also be told how to report hazards they believe have not been properly considered.

(j)   Personal safety and security

Theft, vandalism, and violent crime can be a problem in both remote and urban areas. Hazards to workers, particularly those working alone and those judged to be particularly vulnerable, should be considered carefully, as should the risk of theft of (or vandalism to) essential equipment. Local crime rates, social and political factors will need to be considered and police or other local sources consulted for advice if necessary. Risk assessments should consider the following control measures:

  • pre-visit checks
  • working in pairs or with a companion in earshot
  • security locks on vehicles, buildings, stores
  • anti-theft devices and alarms
  • personal alarms
  • mobile phones or two-way radios (fully charged, with spare charged batteries available where appropriate; emergency contact numbers should be readily available, e.g. stored in mobile phones)
  • training in dealing with aggression
  • monitoring and reporting systems.

(k)   Leisure time

Accidents are especially likely to occur during leisure time for a variety of reasons. For instance, workers may get lost or engage in hazardous activities. Under the influence of drink or drugs they may become unfit to drive or carry out their fieldwork tasks, they may engage in dangerous pranks, they may become aggressive, or they may provoke the aggressive attention of others.

Members of fieldwork groups should be made aware that they will be regarded as representatives of the University and that any dangerous, unsociable or offensive behaviour will reflect badly on it. Departments should consider drawing up a written code of conduct for fieldwork that covers leisure time activities. Supervising staff should note that they will not be held responsible for accidents or incidents occurring during unsupervised leisure time, provided warnings about bad behaviour or dangerous activities are given and recorded.

(l)  Catering and sanitation

Most of the following comments apply to expeditions, but the general principles apply to all fieldwork.

Organisers should aim to provide a wholesome, balanced, and varied diet (this may need to take account of special dietary needs). Every effort should be made to maintain adequate hygiene, even though this may be difficult (ideally, expedition cooks should have a food hygiene qualification). Local foods should be selected carefully and high risk foods avoided. Foods should be stored so as to minimise the risk of spoilage or contamination and prepared in as hygienic a manner as possible, keeping preparation areas as clean as practicable. Prepared food should be kept clean and covered; it should be kept cool (below 5oC) or piping hot (above 70oC). People with skin, nose, throat, or bowel infections should not prepare food.

An adequate supply of potable water must be available. If necessary, water should be purified by boiling, ultra-filtration, or the use of chemical treatments.

4.   Health and basic fitness

Organisers of fieldwork must give careful consideration to the maintenance of the health of participants and, where necessary, the advice of the University Occupational Health Service should be sought

Participants should be asked to declare whether they knowingly suffer from any disability or any medical condition (e.g. asthma or lung disease, diabetes, epilepsy, heart disease, mental health conditions, vertigo, or the taking of certain drugs) that could compromise their health and safety, or that of others. When on field trips, it may be useful for individuals with pre-existing conditions to carry with them written details of their condition, treatment, and medical contacts.

The risk assessment should consider the activities to be undertaken, the work environment, the nature of the medical condition (e.g. its severity, degree of control and functional impact), and the remoteness of the fieldwork activity (including access to medical assistance). Ideally, an individual’s treating practitioner is best placed to provide guidance on their medical condition or disability, but they may not be fully aware of the demands of the fieldwork.

Every effort should be made to enable those with specified medical conditions or disabilities to participate fully in fieldwork, but it may sometimes be necessary, after discussion with the University Occupational Health Service and other relevant parties, to make exclusions.

Activities may be much more strenuous than participants are used to and organisers should ensure that, as far as is reasonably practicable, the people intending to take part are sufficiently fit. If necessary they should be encouraged to improve their level of fitness.

(a)   Health education

Participants should receive adequate instruction on the likely health hazards associated with the work, and particular attention should be given to:

  • environmental hazards (e.g. hypothermia, frostbite, snow blindness, dehydration, altitude sickness, sunburn, nitrogen narcosis)
  • avoidance of gastro-intestinal disorders and food poisoning
  • microbiological hazards
  • insect, animal, and plant hazards
  • basic personal hygiene and care of the feet
  • chemical hazards
  • use of insect repellents.

(b)   Immunisation

Advice should be sought if the fieldwork could result in exposure to certain pathogenic organisms (see Note that immunisation against tetanus is recommended for all those undertaking “traditional” fieldwork, but it is particularly important for those performing manual tasks in contact with soil or animals. Individuals should keep a written record of their vaccinations.

Medical advice on the immunisation requirements for overseas travel for employees and individuals from eligible groups should be sought from the University Occupational Health Service (see For individuals from non-eligible groups, advice may be obtained from general practices and private travel clinics.

(c)   Dental health

Members of expeditions are strongly advised to have a dental check up before undertaking extended fieldwork visits. For visits to very cold climates, or to areas with a high incidence of HIV or other blood borne infection, leaders may wish to make such a check up obligatory.

(d)   Injury and illness in the field

In the field, relatively trivial injuries or conditions may become serious if not treated and leaders should be alert for signs of illness, injury, or fatigue in the party. Prompt medical attention must be sought and fieldworkers should be aware of the location of their nearest healthcare facilities. Participants on trips abroad should be advised of the need to obtain adequate medical insurance and for visits within the European Union fieldworkers should carry a current European Health Insurance Card. If there is any doubt about the standard of health care in the country or area concerned, sufficient sterile packs should be carried to ensure that clean needles, sutures, etc are always available.

5.   Emergency action

(a)   First aid coverage

An appropriate level of first aid cover should always be provided for fieldwork. The risk assessment should consider how to achieve this, taking into account the nature of the work and its location.

It is strongly recommended that, in every group carrying out fieldwork, at least one of those supervising should hold an HSE-approved first aid certificate (or, if more appropriate, a specialist qualification like that obtained on a Mountain First Aid Course).

(b)   Accident and emergency procedures

The fieldwork leader is responsible for organising emergency procedures and ensuring that all members of the group are aware of them.

There should be a clear action plan to deal with a serious accident, which should include the following points:

  • Attend to the injured person.
  • Keep only the minimum number of persons to help and withdraw the remainder to a safe place if conditions are dangerous or may deteriorate.
  • Send for help if necessary, and ensure that the emergency services are given the exact location (e.g. by GPS coordinates or map grid reference).
  • Warn others of dangers, if these exist (e.g. rockfall, avalanche).
  • Inform the department, which will notify the University Safety Office or University Security Services as soon as possible (see UPS S4/00).
  • Do not discuss the situation with anyone except the emergency services and University officials.

(c)   Accident reporting

All accidents, incidents, or work-related illnesses must be reported as soon as possible and a report sent to the University Safety Office, who will forward relevant information to the University Occupational Health Service. Supervisors and fieldwork leaders should be aware of the University’s duty to report certain accidents to the HSE, and the University Safety Office will make these reports as explained in University Policy Statement S4/00.

6.   Monitoring and review

A fully effective system for safely managing fieldwork requires regular review of procedures, so that lessons can be learned from experience and working practices improved. The following should be considered:

(a)  Were adequate advance plans and preparations made for the work?

(b)  Were all hazards anticipated and were adequate precautions taken to control any risks that arose?

(c)  Do any changes need to be made to improve the safety of similar projects in the future?


[1] But note that the University’s Social Sciences Division now includes the departments of Archaeology, Anthropology and Geography and those sections are relevant to the activities of these departments

 2 The University’s “undertaking” covers all activities carried out on its behalf or under its control

January 2007