6. Fieldwork hazards

6. Fieldwork hazards

6.1 Weather evaluation

The weather is a critical safety factor on a field trip and must be taken into account in planning a field trip. For example, boats should not be used in poor weather conditions or if poor weather is forecast. Recent heavy rain will affect river water levels. Fog reduces visibility for driving vehicles or boats. Hot, dry and windy weather will affect local bushfires.

Check the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) website on the day prior to departure and the morning of the marine activity. For Boating operations in open waters wind speeds > 16 knots and swell size >2m be prepared to abort the trip.

Use resources available to you to perform daily checks of weather forecasts as well as local area conditions (e.g. National Parks State Alerts, Rural Fire Service alerts). National Parks and State Forests can be partially or completely closed due to fire, fire hazard reduction programs, logging, snow, ice or post storm remediation, for example. Given that such closures could interrupt fieldwork, it is recommended to check National Park and State Forest warnings and closures BEFORE embarking on a field trip.

In the case of inclement weather being forecast for particular trip dates, a discussion should be had with the relevant fieldwork manager utilising their knowledge and experience to assess the potential impact to your fieldwork.

6.2 Fire risks

Fire in or around a vehicle or vessel is a possibility and every person should be prepared for such an event.

Bush fires are an ever present risk in the Australian bush. All fire restrictions and bans must be observed and any road or park closures adhered to. Regularly monitor news bulletins and fire status with location authorities e.g. NPWS Duty Officers before embarking on fieldwork to such affected localities.

For information on responding to a bushfire contact the State Rural Fire Service applicable to your field locations.

Chemical transport and inadvertent mixing of chemicals can also pose a fire risk. Correct transport and separation of chemicals in alignment with the chemical SDS and the approved hazardous chemical risk assessment must be observed.

6.3 Recreational hunting

Some National Parks and State Forests allow hunting by permit only, however others do not and the risk of illegal hunting is ever present. Such activities can pose serious threats to the safety of field work teams and must be considered in a risk assessment of the site. Prior to undertaking fieldwork, investigation is required with local authorities to ascertain the status of hunting activities at the field locations. If concerns are raised please consult with the relevant fieldwork manager.

Do not risk the safety of the field trip team by entering such areas during hunting activities.

6.4 Marine/aquatic

Ensure a daily onsite assessment of sea conditions, swell, wind, tides and currents is conducted.

First aid kits are provided for all marine fieldwork and snorkelling/ freediving fieldwork is provided with an oxygen cylinder and defibrillator and must have participants trained in first aid as well as oxygen administration and advanced resuscitation techniques. Please see the marine fieldwork manager for further information or section 5.1 First aid policy.

Aquatic risks are often hidden so extra care should be taken to avoid dangerous aquatic wildlife, uneven footing, rocks and boulders and slippery surfaces

Staff and students participating in field activities in marine, stream or lake environments where the work is carried out in deep water (above chest depth) are required by legislation to complete a swim/ snorkel assessment of competency prior to any fieldwork. Please see the marine fieldwork manager for further information.

For further information refer to the marine fieldwork website

6.5 Boating safety

Fieldwork employing the use of Macquarie University vessels is detailed in boating fieldwork information on the marine fieldwork website. Please refer here or to the marine fieldwork manager for further information, procedures and protocols around boating fieldwork.

6.6 Dangerous terrain

Extra care should be taken in situations where there is steepness of terrain, possible rock falls, overhangs or cliff faces, uneven or unconsolidated footing in an aquatic environment or evident sea wash for example. Foreseeable hazards involving dangerous terrain should be assessed and controlled in the risk assessment and also the onsite hazard checklist. A fieldwork manager can refuse fieldwork if risks are too high or there are no satisfactory controls in place. In some circumstances extra training can be arranged.

If terrain is dangerous to drive on and risks creating a vehicle recovery situation it is recommended to get out of the vehicle, assess the situation and if the risk is too high, walk rather than drive or abandon the locality. The safety of the field team is essential.

6.7 Working on or near roads

Fieldwork involving traffic or pedestrian behavior must not impose additional hazards to the public or fieldwork participants. The fieldwork activity must not distract the public, especially vehicle drivers. Adequate and appropriate warning signs must be deployed in accordance with local traffic laws. Participants must wear reflective vests when working on or near roads and other sights where traffic is involved, such as car parks. These can be collected from the fieldwork manager or vehicle manager.

6.8 Specialist equipment

Certain field trips will require specialist equipment to be taken. For example; tree loppers, collecting equipment, analysis machines, hammers and chisels, powered equipment such as chainsaws etc. Depending on the risks of using the equipment, the specialist equipment may require an associated risk assessment or safe working procedure to be submitted with a Project within Field Friendly for approval. You may also send this document to the relevant fieldwork manager for review or comment before submitting. The equipment can only be used in the field once approved by the fieldwork manager and if required, training certificates sited.

All specialist equipment related risks must be communicated to the field team.

In some circumstances, such as the use of cherry pickers or working at heights or using climbing equipment including ladders, extra training can be arranged. This should be discussed with the relevant fieldwork manager well in advance of the fieldtrip.

6.9 Chemicals in the field

A chemical induction must be completed before any chemicals including gases, may be carried into the field.

All information regarding hazardous chemicals can be found on the Health and Safety wiki

The carriage and use of chemical substances in the field may present a variety of hazards which must be effectively managed to protect persons from harm.

An approved hazardous chemical risk assessment must be attached to the Field Friendly Project for approval of chemical use in the field, and a copy (along with the Safety Data sheet) must be carried into the field.

Chemicals should be transported safely with the latest Safety Data Sheet and in the correctly labelled packaging in accordance with the local State EPA Acts and Guidelines. It may be easier and safer to transport the chemicals to the field site before hand to avoid risks of transport to the field team. Dangerous goods MUST NOT be transported in your possession on any form of public transport and must be properly packaged, declared and sent as cargo.

Consideration for transporting any waste chemicals back to the University must be taken into account during the initial planning process. Waste chemicals should be disposed of in an appropriate manner. No chemicals are to be left abandoned at any site.

Information on transporting dangerous goods can be found at the NSW EPA website which includes links to Acts and Guidelines of all other states. This includes legal parameters for required:

  • Documentation
  • Emergency information
  • Stowage
  • Required placards and extinguishers and other safety control measures

Chemicals of concern

Anyone considering taking any of the 96 chemicals listed under the Code of Practice for Chemicals of Security Concern must ensure that effective physical security & inventory control processes are in place to ensure that  the likelihood of chemicals of security concern being accidentally or deliberately delivered to or stolen by terrorists or their associates during transport is eliminated.

Some suggested actions include –

  • Ensure chemicals are secure at all times during transport
  • Do not leave vehicles unattended
  • Use secure parking for loads in transit
  • Monitor the location of vehicles which transporting chemicals
  • Record quantities of chemical during loading and unloading
  • Implement a system to confirm deliveries of correct amounts with security intact
  • Ensure chemicals are only supplied to the correct recipient

Please refer to Chemicals under the Health and Safety wiki for further information.

6.10 Gas cylinder transport

Gas cylinders should not be transported in the boot of a car (with the exception of SCUBA cylinders- please refer to the Diving Operations Manual). Transport should be in a Ute or a trailer so that it may be tied down with safety straps and chocked to prevent movement. The choice of vehicle should allow for a secure tie down of the cylinder adhering to local state requirements.

The smallest cylinder possible should be carried and should be transported correctly in accordance with the SDS. The BOC Guidelines for Gas Cylinder Safety may also assist with safe carriage information. As with transportation within buildings, the protective caps must be on cylinders and for toxic gases and valve outlets must be capped or plugged with an approved closure device. The transport compartment should be well ventilated.  A gas cylinder MUST NOT be transported in the passenger compartment of the vehicle.

Note: For marine fieldwork where Oxygen cylinders are required (Snorkel/ Freedive not compressed air diving), the cylinders are carried securely in the cabin of the vehicle to keep them separate from flammable substances, reduce wear on cylinders and detect leaks early in such a case.

Transporting of dangerous goods MUST NOT be undertaken in your personal vehicle as you may not be insured in the event of an accident.

DO NOT transport cylinders with regulators or equipment attached even if the cylinder valves are closed.

Refer to the SDS and local state requirements for the gas for further transport information and seek advice from the relevant fieldwork manager and chemical safety officer.

A separate risk assessment must be written for transport of gas into the field and attached in the Field Friendly Project as with chemical use in the field.

6.11 Hazardous manual tasks

It is likely that hazardous manual tasks will occur during fieldwork (e.g. animal handling, digging with a shovel, heavy lifting, vehicle loading etc.) and those identified during the risk assessment process must be communicated to the fieldwork team. Manual tasks can contribute to strain and sprain type injuries and the risks must be managed in order to conduct safe fieldwork and work off-campus.If requested by the relevant fieldwork manager, a safe work procedure may need to be provided as an attachment in the Field Friendly project for such a task.

Employ engineering and load share solutions if possible to reduce the possibility of hazardous manual tasks.

6.12 Electrical Safety

Electrical hazards should be avoided by using the correct equipment in the correct conditions which have been inspected and tested during the annual University wide inspection. University equipment carried in the field must be tested and visibly tagged to reduce the likelihood of faults and potential serious injury

6.13 Biosafety

It is important that fieldworkers identify the possible biological hazards they may be exposed to or encounter while carrying out their work in the field.

Working with biohazardous materials, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), security sensitive biological agents (SSBAs) and agents requiring quarantine containment at Macquarie University requires guidance and approval.

For more information refer to Risk and Assurance - Biosafety or contact the University Biosafety officer- biosafety@mq.edu.au

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