Safety, Health and Wellbeing

Fieldwork in rural and remote areas

Our role is to develop and assist in the implementation of the UWA safety, health and wellbeing programs in order to minimise the risk of injury, illness and property damage.

We provide consultancy and other services to promote best practice and legislative compliance in all University and related activities.

Fieldwork in rural and remote locations form an essential part of many teaching and research functions at the University of Western Australia. These tasks and activities may be carried out in unfamiliar surroundings with different risks from those that are well known and controlled whilst on the University campus.

  1. Scope
  2. Definitions
  3. Responsibilities
  4. Breach of these procedures
  5. Awareness of University policies and procedures
  6. Insurance
  7. Fieldwork planning
  8. Forms
  9. Acknowledgement

Scope

  • These procedures apply to all staff, students and volunteers of the University of Western Australia undertaking approved rural and remote field works in Australia. International rural and remote field works must additionally comply with the University’s Working Overseas Guidelines and with the Commonwealth Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade requirements.
  • Staff, students and volunteers may only undertake collaborative field activities with another organisation if the field work complies with the University of Western Australia’s Policies and Procedures or if the Occupational Safety and Health Policies and Procedures of the collaborative organisation are of equivalent, or better, level of safety.
  • These procedures outline necessary steps for safe management of rural and remote field work. They provide a framework for identification of hazards, assessment of risks and determination of risk control strategies so that all persons involved with rural and remote field work are pro-active towards safety. These procedures do not cover off-campus activities within five kilometres of a populated city, town or centre where medical assistance and communication is readily available.

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Definitions

  • Rural field work is defined as any approved practical work carried out by staff, students or volunteers for the purpose of teaching and/or research in places more than five kilometres outside urban areas which are not under University control but where the University is responsible for the safety of its staff, students and volunteers and others exposed to their activities. This work covers very diverse activities including but not confined to field excursions, field camps, archeological digs and wreck research, scuba diving, water research, agricultural activities, mining activities, oil and gas work, surveying, and identifying and collecting geological and biological specimens. Voluntary and leisure activities not forming part of the defined and approved practical work are excluded .
  • Remote field work includes all rural field work but is further defined in terms of distance and accessibility:
    • working more than 10 km from a facility with telephone or radio communications
    • in areas of little traffic, on waterways, or where hills, dense vegetation or other topographic features make it difficult to obtain help using the communication system available
    • if medical or other emergency support is more than 60 minutes away.
  • Off-road is any location other than a major or minor formed road.
  • Head of academic/administrative unit. For the purposes of these procedures, Head of Academic/Administrative Unit is used to denote the Head of the area that is undertaking the activity. For academic areas, this term includes Head of Faculty, School or Centre. For administrative areas, the term includes Head of the Section or Unit.
  • Fieldwork Supervisor is the University staff member who supervises the Field Work Leader.
  • Fieldwork Leader is the person who is directly in control of and participates in the defined practical field work occurring in the environment external to the University. In some instances this role may merge with the Field Works Supervisor role (who plans and organises the work), provided this has been agreed with the Head of Academic/Administrative Unit in advance.
  • Fieldwork Plan lists the field work to be carried out, objectives, proposed itinerary, where, by whom, participants, start date, finish date, hazard identification, risk assessment and risk controls.
  • Hazard is the potential for something to cause injury or harm.
  • Risk is the likelihood that a hazard will cause injury or harm.
  • Risk assessment is a structured process designed to assess the nature of a hazard, the likelihood of it causing injury or harm and the likely consequences.
  • Risk control is the implementation of strategies to minimise the hazard and reduce the level of risk.
  • Volunteer is a “pre-recognised” person willing to participate in the field work activities, offering their time and services for no financial remuneration. They are obliged to follow any directions issued by the Field Work Leader in the same way as University participants.

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Legal responsibilities

The University must exercise a “duty of care” under the WA Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984. All staff involved in the conduct of field activities should be familiar with the University’s Occupational Safety and Health Policy and the Responsibility and Accountability Policy, in particular, the responsibilities of supervisors and individuals. A summary of the important responsibilities relevant to field activities is provided below.

Head of Academic/Administrative Unit

It is the responsibility of the Head of the Academic/Administrative Unit to ensure that satisfactory provisions for safety and health are made for rural and remote field activities approved by their unit. Heads of the Academic/Administrative Units must institute a system for assessment, approval and review of all field activities in their unit and ensure that occupational safety and health issues are reported and resolved. The Head may delegate this duty to the Field Work Supervisor but responsibility for ensuring satisfactory provisions for field work safety and health is not delegable. The Head must be satisfied that the Field Work Supervisor and the Field Work Leader are competent.

It is also a responsibility of the Head to ensure that all field work participants are adequately trained as well as being adequately informed. The distinction between information and training is significant and should not be underestimated (for example, field work involving scuba diving is potentially very dangerous for the untrained, no matter how well informed they may be).

Fieldwork Supervisor

The staff member in charge of a rural and or remote field activity must ensure that the risks associated with rural and remote field activities are managed effectively. To do this they must:

  • determine the possible hazards that may be encountered during the activity
  • assess the risks associated with the possible hazards
  • incorporate strategies to minimise the risks to safety and health.

Many of the hazards likely to be encountered on field activities and appropriate risk controls are discussed in these procedures. Hazard identification and risk assessment forms are included to:

  • ensure that the responsibilities for safety and health are communicated to all participants
  • provide appropriate information, instruction and training to all participants.

The Field Work Supervisor can delegate the supervision or training of a student to a suitably qualified and/or experienced person, as appropriate for the task. The Field Work Supervisor is, however, responsible for ensuring that each participant has received appropriate training and has gained sufficient competence to undertake the task.

Fieldwork Leader

The Fieldwork Leader in charge of the practical undertaking of rural and or remote field work has a particular responsibility for safeguarding the safety and health of all staff, undergraduate, honours and postgraduate students in their charge as well as any volunteers who may be assisting.

Fieldwork Leaders of rural and remote field activities must:

  • ensure that safe working practices are developed and maintained at all times
  • arrange for participants to be instructed in safe and healthy working procedures
  • ensure that participants are warned about hazards, and how to avoid, eliminate or minimise them
  • ensure that participants under their control use safety equipment provided in the correct manner.

Postgraduate/honours student researchers

In a fieldwork situation where a postgraduate or honours research student is in charge of the field work (in other words, is the Field Work Leader), it is their Field Work Supervisor’s “duty of care” responsibility to instruct the Field Work Leader in their responsibilities and to ensure that the approved “Fieldwork Plan” is submitted and adhered to.

Individuals (staff, students, volunteers)

Each staff member, student and volunteer has a moral and legal responsibility for ensuring that his or her work environment is conducive to good safety and health by:

  • undertaking relevant safety and health training
  • reading any notices relating to the field activity, attending any briefing sessions and returning any forms to the staff member in charge
  • taking action to eliminate, minimise avoid or report hazards of which they are aware
  • complying with all occupational safety and health instructions
  • making proper use of all safety devices and personal protective equipment
  • not placing at risk the safety and health of themselves or any other person
  • maintaining dress standards appropriate for the work undertaken.

A "Fieldwork Participant Declaration" form is located in the Forms section at the bottom of this page.

Medical conditions affecting field work participation

All personnel involved in field work must be mentally and physically fit for the tasks required. They must accept appropriate medical advice where relevant and disclose to the Field Work Leader/Supervisor or Head any limitation imposed by their health that may affect their ability to participate safely in any field work activity. This obligation applies both before and during field work. Information provided must be treated as confidential information, unless non-disclosure creates a risk to other participants.

Students and staff with disabilities

The University of Western Australia is committed to being fair, equitable and sensitive to the diverse needs of its staff and students in all its policies and practices and to supporting access by disadvantaged groups with due regard and respect for the sensitivities of all stakeholders. With respect to field activities, it is the University’s responsibility to avoid discrimination against people who have a disability by making reasonable adjustments to the working environment and arrangements.

When students are undertaking a field activity as part of their course requirement, reasonable accommodations will (where reasonable) be made to ensure that students who have a disability can participate. Some students may not, however, be able to undertake some activities. Alternative arrangements must be made to ensure that these students can meet the inherent requirements of the course. Advice and assistance can be obtained from Equity and Diversity in Human Resources.

Adjustments to the working environment and arrangements for students and staff with disabilities may include:

  • Transport: The type of transport used for the field activity must be accessible for the staff and students with disabilities attending the activity. Alternative forms of transport or frequent, scheduled breaks may be required for participants who have disabilities.
  • Facilities: The facilities and accommodation for the field activity must (where reasonable) be accessible for the participants who have disabilities attending the activity.
  • Communication: Communications regarding the field activity must be provided in a form that is accessible for the participants who have disabilities attending the activity. Alternative formats may have to be provided for specific participants; for example, written information for participants with hearing-impairment, Braille version or audio for participants with vision impairment. Participants with hearing-impairment may find Short Message Service (SMS) on mobile phones useful for communication while attending field activities (provided they are within a reception area).
  • Student Support Worker participation: Some students may require a Student Support Worker to accompany them on the field activity to assist as interpreters or note takers.

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Breach of these procedures

Any breach of these field work procedures will be dealt with at the discretion of the Head of School and Dean (or equivalent administrative Head of Unit), in accordance with the University’s procedures on substandard performance of staff and disciplinary procedures in the case of students/researchers.

Staff members: at a minimum, the Dean must inform the staff member that the breach is not acceptable and that it will be documented on their personal file. Further repeat offences shall be referred to the Director of Human Resources for formal disciplinary action.

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Awareness of University policies and procedures

All University policies and procedures apply throughout the duration of the field work. It is the Field Work Supervisor’s responsibility to ensure that people involved in the field work are aware of all relevant policies such as:

For further information visit the Safety and Health homepage.

Field work participants must also be cognisant of and abide by statutory requirements such as flora and fauna collecting, National Parks regulations, entry into other designated areas, Health Department protocols, and so on.

The Occupational Safety and Health Regulations, Codes of Practice, Guidance notes, Australian Standards and Industry Codes provide further information pertaining to legally binding safety requirements. Supervisors must be familiar with these in relation to the activities involved in the field work. For further information contact Safety and Health on (+61 8) 6488 3938.

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Insurance

Everyone participating in field work must be adequately insured. Advice can be obtained from the University’s Insurance and Risk Management Officer. Heads of Units undertaking field work should ensure that appropriate insurance has been arranged to cover all parties before the field work begins. Details of the University’s insurances can be obtained at on the University's Insurance Policies page.

A "Voluntary Workers Insurance Proposal is located in the Forms section at the bottom of this page.

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Fieldwork planning

If you are planning fieldwork involving diving or boating refer to Diving and boating safety for the relevant planning forms including the fieldwork plan.

Step 1: Commence the Fieldwork plan

Describe the work to be carried out, its objectives, the proposed itinerary, where it will be conducted, by whom, participants, start date, finish date and other relevant information as required on "Form 7 Planning - fieldwork safety plan" below.

Step 2: Identify the hazards and assess the risks.

Use the "Fieldwork hazard identification checklist" in the forms section at the bottom of this page to work through aspects of the trip which may require health and safety considerations / safety risk assessment.

STAFF - The Fieldwork Leader/Supervisor must consider the hazards involved in the planned activities and assess the associated risks using the "Fieldwork Safety Risk Assessment" in the forms section at the bottom of this page. Identified risk control strategies must be implemented and monitored throughout the fieldwork.

STUDENTS - Notification for intended fieldwork is given as part of the Program of Study, which is submitted by all research candidates. Details of field work and any hazardous or dangerous activities must be disclosed in the submission of the Program of Study and the Annual Progress Report. Any field work that becomes part of the research program subsequent to the original Program of Study must be reported in the Annual Progress Report.

Each participant must complete a "Fieldwork Participant Declaration" and volunteers and their supervisor’s must also complete the "Voluntary Workers Insurance Proposal" - see REGISTRATION OF PARTICIPANTS in the forms section at the bottom of this page.

Step 3: Gain approval from the Head of Unit

The fieldwork plan and all other forms associated with the planned activities must be submitted, via the local School Supervisor / Administrator, to the relevant Head of School at least one week prior to departure. This time may need to be longer, particularly if immunisations are required. The fieldwork shall only begin upon approval and “sign off” by the Head of School. Should the Head of School discern that a higher level of approval is required, the fieldwork plan shall be submitted to the Dean. Either level of management has the right to refuse to grant approval, make approval conditional on certain criteria being met or to seek further expert advice or opinion.

The approval process (when 'Form 07 Planning-fieldwork safety plan' is endorsed) should include recording of the approval on a central record of approvals which is kept by the school or unit. A suitable template is provded in the forms section of this page. See 'Template - Health and Safety Fieldwork Register' (below).

Step 4: Induct field work participants

The Fieldwork Leader/Supervisor must instruct participants on health and safety matters related to the fieldwork. It is recommended that an information sheet highlighting key health and safety factors relating to the planned activities be developed, attached to the fieldwork plan and supplied to each participant.

Further considerations:

Repeated fieldwork - A fieldwork plan may be reused provided that:

  • there are no foreseeable changes to the previous risk assessment
  • the field work leader provides updated details regarding participants and trip dates on the reused fieldwork plan

If changes are identified, a new plan will need to be submitted.

Record keeping - A copy of all documentation (inlcuding participant forms) shall be kept in the School/Unit’s office and a copy kept by the fieldwork leader during the fieldwork.

Minimum number of people - No less than two people shall be in attendance during the fieldwork. In some situations and according to the level of risk, more people will be required. Likewise for safety reasons, maximum numbers may need to be enforced, for example boat trips in vessels licensed to carry a maximum number of people.

First aid - Provision must be made in accordance with the Occupational Safety and Health Regulations (WA) 1996 and Code of Practice First Aid, PPE and Amenities [PDF, 406.85 KB]. Remote area field work requires a currently qualified first aid attendant to be present. Senior First Aid qualifications are preferred and may be required in many circumstances. Contents of first aid kits need to reflect the types of hazards likely to cause injury, as stipulated by the Code of Practice.

Communication with the University - The method of communication and frequency of communication must be agreed in the field work plan. Mobile phones (where reception is available), UHF radio, satellite phones and EPIRBs (for when other forms of communication fail) may need to be considered. Where possible, contact shall be made at agreed intervals with University staff on campus.

With some types of fieldwork it may be more appropriate to set up an alternative communication arrangement made with a reputable contact point. Examples of such include a local police station, CALM, National Parks ranger, another institution, a mine site manager, a ship’s master or a farm manager. The underpinning principles are that wherever possible, communication should occur daily, and that there must be a documented emergency back-up plan in the event that contact is not made.

Catering - Food hygiene in the field is essential to minimise intestinal upsets. Procedures appropriate to each field trip form part of the scope of work for that trip.

Leisure time - In many respects, the potential for injuries is greatest during student leisure time. Students may wander off without providing information about where they are going and may engage in dangerous activities such as swimming alone or climbing cliffs.

The abuse of alcohol during leisure time can often be a problem on field trips; drunken students may engage in dangerous pranks, provoke the aggressive attention of local inhabitants, or become aggressive towards one another and/or staff members.

Reporting hazards, incidents and injuries - The University’s requirements on reporting hazards, incidents and injuries must be adhered to in the event of any injury occurring or where a hazard may have resulted in an injury.

Medical conditions affecting field work participation - All personnel involved in the field work must be physically and mentally fit for the tasks required in the field work. They must accept appropriate medical advice where relevant and disclose to the Field Work Leader/Supervisor or Head of School any limitation imposed by their health that may affect their ability to participate safely in any field work activity. This obligation applies both before and during field work. Information provided must be treated as confidential, unless non-disclosure creates a risk to other participants.

Notification of next of kin - Before a field trip, the Fieldwork Leader must ensure that a list of all participant’s next of kin details have been provided to the School/Unit office. These should be retained for the duration of the field work. The Field Work Leader should also take a copy along on the field trip.

Notification of changes to proposed field work - During a field activity, a specified contact person at the University must be notified as soon as possible of any changes to the originally proposed itinerary or schedule, including changes of dates, location or number of persons attending the field activity. If the changes cause a flow-on effect to the existing risk assessment, then a revised risk assessment must be prepared.

Notification of return from field work - Participants must notify a specified contact person (such as their supervisor) on return from field activity. If a staff member or a student fails to return from a field activity at the pre-arranged time and has not notified a change in arrangements, the specified contact person is responsible for notifying a School/Unit representative – for example, the Head of the School/Unit. This person is then responsible for notifying emergency services as applicable and next of kin.

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Forms

For Diving and boating activities please use the forms on that page.

REGISTRATION OF PARTICIPANTS

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PLANNING

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Acknowledgements

  • Monash University: Guidelines for health and safety during field activities in country and remote areas. February 2002
  • University of NSW: Draft Fieldwork Safety Guidelines. 11 October 2002
  • Murdoch University: Draft Fieldwork Policy. 19 September 2002
  • The University of Queensland: Fieldwork safety guideline. 15/4/99
  • UK HSE: Guidance on safety in fieldwork. April 2004
  • University of Glasgow, UK: Guidelines for personal health and safety while working overseas. 2004

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