2 Supervision and training
2.1 Responsibility for Safety in Fieldwork
In the light of the results of an appropriate risk assessment, a written safe system of work should be devised, discussed and agreed with the College Dean or his/her appointed representative. The nature of the document will vary with the type of activity being undertaken but it should be made familiar to each member of the field trip. It is not considered sufficient for them just to sign a declaration that they have read and understood the document; the supervisor should satisfy him/herself that the individual appreciates the salient points.
Responsibility for the health and safety of participants in fieldwork lies ultimately with the College Dean. He or she must ensure that field trip leaders and supervisors are authorised and competent.
- be adequately trained in basic risk assessment
- have the appropriate knowledge to devise a safe system of work
- possess any necessary skills e.g. first aid
- be capable and competent in leading a party in the field and appreciate the hazards involved with the undertaking
- ensure that each individual in the group has a general appreciation of safety measures
For the duration of the field trip, the leader is responsible for ensuring all safety precautions are observed, this may require positive logging in high risk areas such as quarries, mines, cliffs or on water. This duty may be passed to other responsible persons e.g. a boat skipper, but the overall duty to ensure safety lies with the expedition leader. It is important that there is a clear command structure within the group. While the structure may be perfectly obvious on most field trips, there can be confusion when command passes from the expedition leader to, for example, a boat skipper or diving organiser. When this occurs, all members of the party must be kept fully informed.
2.2 Fieldwork Supervision
The following comments are generally directed at trips involving students, who are often less experienced and therefore more vulnerable than staff under field conditions. 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 greater expertise or training.
Organisers of field trips (which in most cases will be the academic supervisor) are responsible to the College Dean for ensuring that adequate safety arrangements exist and are observed by fieldworkers. Where appropriate, organisers may appoint one or more fieldwork leaders to act on their behalf in the field. This may be necessary when parties are split into sub-groups or when a person other than the academic supervisor has more experience of a locality or work process; such appointees may not necessarily be employees of the University (eg. boat-skippers, mountain guides, site foremen). In law, responsibility devolves along the chain of command. If the field trip leader is not the most senior person present, this should be made clear at the outset. It should be clearly understood by all fieldworkers that they are in a work situation and are acting under supervision.
It is the responsibility of individuals to understand, heed and observe any instruction given them by a supervisor and to bring any questions or problems to the attention of their supervisor.
The College must be kept aware of the activities of fieldwork groups; a plan of work which includes the proposed itinerary and timetable should be deposited with the College 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 deposited with a suitable person (eg hotel owner) or organisation (eg police, coast guard, mountain rescue team). Independent workers should do this on a daily basis and also maintain communication on a planned basis. Suitable response action should be decided upon in advance in the event of contact times being missed. It is essential that the fieldwork group is aware of emergency response plans as this will affect their behaviour e.g. stay put if lost in bad weather while search and rescue is actioned by the base/control.
Supervision levels for fieldwork will vary tremendously. An inexperienced group of first year students will require a higher level than is appropriate for postgraduates or other experienced staff. While fieldwork cannot usually be as closely supervised as other activities, the leader must ensure that the level of supervision is adequate for a given situation.
Three different levels of supervision are recognized :
- fully supervised courses
- field expeditions
- lone working
2.3 Fully Supervised Courses
These will normally be of short duration (a working day or less) and conducted in low hazard environments; although visits to tidal zones, rugged terrain, industrial sites or urban localities for sample collection or observation can have their own associated risks, which should be assessed beforehand.
Participating students may be inexperienced; safety instruction should be an integral part of the excursion and they should be made aware of any local rules applying to industrial or commercial sites. Students should not normally be allowed to work independently and must not be intentionally exposed to hazardous situations.
Consideration should be given to staff/student ratios, which may vary according to the activities being carried out and the nature of the site being visited. Each group should have an experienced staff member as leader, supported by other experienced staff wherever possible or by other suitable appointed supervisors (eg postdoctoral researchers or postdoctoral students of suitable experience and maturity). As a basic standard, the maximum number of inexperienced students involved in low risk activities (e.g. geological or botanical specimen collection, or surveying) in reasonably rugged countryside during the summer should be 10 per experienced staff member.
Each party should contain at least two staff members to ensure adequate deputising provision, this is to cover for supervision and specific competencies e.g. driver, first aider, in case of incapacity. Maximum and minimum party sizes should be set bearing in mind the environment, the activity to be undertaken, and the logistics of foreseeable emergencies. For instance, parties of more than 15 inexperienced people may be difficult to manage in rugged country and a minimum of 4 people to a sub-group will mean that, should an accident or injury occur, one person can stay with the casualty while two others go for help.
2.4 Field Expeditions
Such trips may be prolonged and in environments which 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 appropriate skills, which may include survival, communication and navigational techniques. He or she should be aware of local hazards and conditions and be familiar with precautions to be taken where the terrain is particularly hazardous (eg glaciers, rock faces) or where dangerous animals, diseases or substances may be present.
The College Dean should be satisfied that the leader has the personal capability and competence to lead, especially under adverse conditions. The authority and responsibilities of the leader 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 accompany the trip, so that suitable deputising arrangements can be made in case of incapacity, or if the party splits up into smaller groups.
Especially in small or remote countries, it is advisable to inform the Senior British Authority (eg the Consul) in advance of the intended expedition.
2.5 Lone Working
Working alone is to be discouraged as far as possible but it is recognised that in some situations it is not reasonably practicable to avoid it. Lone working should be permitted only after a thorough assessment of the risks has been carried out, taking into account the nature of the work, the hostility and location of the site and the experience of the worker.
A safe system of work should then be devised in order, as far as is reasonably practicable, to safeguard the health and safety of the fieldworker and to reduce risks from foreseeable hazards to an acceptable level (section 2 HSW Act).
There are specific situations where lone working is highly inadvisable or contrary to legal requirements (eg work in confined spaces, fumigation or diving operations).
In most cases the lone worker will be a post-graduate or final-year undergraduate student undertaking project work. The student should be involved in the risk assessment process and all parties must be aware, in so 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.
Before students leave to commence fieldwork, the supervisor (or College) must know their destination, the nature of the work and the estimated time of their return. Students should also advise the College upon completion of the fieldwork, appropriate emergency plans need to be in place should the lone worker fail to check in at the arranged time. Colleges must formulate clear guide-lines on the scope of activities which may be undertaken alone, the types of terrain where these may take place, the supervisory arrangements (eg checking-in, emergency plans in case the lone worker fails to check in) and the training and experience required on the part of the student.
Because the lone worker may be at greater risk than a group member, it is important that an effective means of communication is established. Any safe system of work should include arrangements to determine the whereabouts of a lone worker and contingency plans in case of failure to make contact. As well as the danger of personal injury, the possibility of exhaustion or hypothermia should be considered, although any such risk should have come to light during the risk assessment and would strongly mitigate against lone working.
Checks on lone workers need to be on a regular and planned basis. The frequency should be dependent on the nature of the activities and the perceived risk. Lone workers must ensure that their daily itineraries are known locally and that some responsible person (eg hotel owner, local police) will raise the alarm if they fail to return at the end of their specified working period.
Various skills may be required for field trips and it is important that personnel are adequately trained before or during the expedition. In groups engaged in trips to remote locations, at least two staff members must be appropriately trained in emergency first aid; if the expedition is particularly remote or long-term there might be a case for 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 (ability to swim at least 50 metres would generally be appropriate).
The training of leaders is particularly important and for some activities it may be appropriate to seek formal qualifications (eg mountain leadership, sub-aqua etc.) beyond those directly connected with the work itself.
2.7 Work Placements
Student placements with commercial enterprises may involve training and supervision on-site, this is the legal responsibility of the host employer i.e. the student will be regarded as an employee. The University retains ‘duty of care’ for the student whilst in the placement and has an obligation to ensure that the enterprise operates in a safe and healthy manner
The best way to ensure this is for the supervisor to make an a preliminary visit and carry out a health and safety audit.