FIELDWORK OUTSIDE AUSTRALIA - A Supplement to Fieldwork Safety Guidelines

  1. Introduction
  2. Environment
    2.1 Climate
    2.2 Hygiene, Food and Water
    2.3 Disease
    2.4 Natural Disasters
  3. Infrastructure
    3.1 Medical Systems
    3.2 Emergency Care
    3.3 Communications
  4. Cultural and Social Issues
    4.1 Social and/or Religious Constraints
    4.2 Crime
  5. Political Climate
  6. Other
    6.1 Personal Factors
    6.2 Returning to Australia - Quarantine Requirements
  7. References

1. Introduction

These guidelines are intended to supplement the general Fieldwork Safety Guidelines. They have been developed to draw attention to additional risks that may be encountered in fieldwork outside of Australia, where the living environment, infrastructure, culture and political climate can vary considerably from what is experienced in Australia. These differences may be particularly pronounced in developing nations, but can also occur in developed nations.

This supplement should be used in the risk assessment and planning stage of an overseas fieldtrip - see Section 3.1 of the Fieldwork Safety Guidelines. The best way to reduce risks associated with overseas fieldwork is to make adequate preparations prior to departure by finding out about the conditions likely to be encountered en route and at the destination and then taking steps to minimise and control the likely risks. The main areas of risk that should be considered are discussed in more detail below.

2. Environment

2.1 Climate

The climate of the fieldwork location may be quite different to what is usually experienced by the field trip participants at home. Time should be allowed for participants to adjust to the new climate and tasks should be planned taking into account the constraints of the climate for workers who are not fully acclimatised. For example, in tropical climates, allowance should be made for increased water consumption to prevent dehydration. Suitable clothing can also be an issue, as what is considered comfortable for the climate may not be appropriate for health and safety reasons eg long sleeves may be advisable in tropical areas to protect against insects and UV radiation.


2.2 Hygiene, Food and Water

Hygiene standards may differ, leading to increased risk of diarrhoeal diseases including cholera, so field trip participants may require advice on safe food and water. In many regions it is best to avoid eating salads, uncooked foods, fruits that aren't peeled, ice confections and food from roadside stalls. Water, including reticulated supplies, is unsafe to use in many parts of the world. Boiling water for 15 minutes or using water purification tablets may be needed to render water safe for drinking, cooking with, and for other uses such as cleaning teeth. Tea and coffee made with boiling water, and canned or bottled beverages are generally safe to drink. Milk and ice may not be safe.

Bodies of fresh water, such as rivers, ponds and lakes can harbour organisms and other contaminants that make paddling, swimming or other forms of contact risky.

High personal hygiene standards may be required to counteract poor sanitation standards. Attention to thorough handwashing after using toilets and before food preparation and consumption is important. Personal hygiene requirements may differ due to different climate, such as the need to shower and change clothes regularly in tropical climates in order to avoid skin infections and tinea. Note that there may be a lack of suitable ablution facilities.

These aspects should be investigated in the planning stages so that participants can be properly briefed on the precautions they need to take.


2.3 Disease

There are many diseases overseas that do not generally occur in Australia. Some of these infectious diseases include malaria, typhoid, cholera, dengue fever, filariasis, rabies, plague, schistosomiasis, meningitis, yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis, trypanosomiasis, tetanus, diptheria, poliomyelitis, Hepatitis A/B/C/D/E, and HIV.

Disease risks vary with the area to be visited, the duration of the stay, the living and sanitary conditions and types of work to be performed. Disease risks vary over time and current advice should be obtained from travel health advisory agencies before departure. Disease prevention measures should be researched well before the planned departure of the field trip to ensure any relevant vaccination programs can be completed. An initial consultation with a doctor experienced in travel medicine should be made at least three months prior to planned departure. Vaccinations may be required for exotic diseases as well as to update routine immunisations. Vaccines are not available to prevent all diseases, so other types of precautions may be needed. For example, to prevent malaria the appropriate type of anti-malarial medication and advice on how to avoid mosquito bites would be needed.

Reference sources for current disease risks around the world include:

2.4 Natural Disasters

Work in some parts of the world may pose risks due to the propensity for natural disasters to occur. Seasonal and geological factors should be taken into account when planning field trips in order to minimise the risks of working in areas prone to flooding, severe storm, avalanche, volcanic eruption, earthquake and tsunami, etc. Participants should ensure they have information about what to do in the event of such an emergency. Registration at the nearest Australian Embassy or Consulate is also recommended.

3. Infrastructure

3.1 Medical Systems

Medical systems may be of a lower standard than is usual in Australia. For example, blood donations may not be subject to same sort of screening as we expect in Australia, and blood products may therefore carry a risk of transmitting HIV, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and other bloodborne pathogens. Sterile medical equipment may not always be available. Medicines and consumable items (such as syringes for diabetics) may not be available. An assessment of any deficiencies in the host country medical system should be made when planning the field trip so that appropriate preparations can be made to deal with routine and emergency medical issues that could arise.

Field trip participants with allergies and pre-existing medical conditions may face additional risks due to such factors as extra demands of climate, special dietary needs which can't readily be met and problems with medications. Individuals should review their particular medical requirements with a medical practitioner prior to departure. Arrangements should be made to take sufficient therapeutic agents and/or spare aids for the trip (eg spare prescription spectacles). Copies of prescriptions and doctor's reports on the participant's condition should be carried on the field trip. Some over-the-counter and prescription medicines in Australia may be illegal in other countries. On the other hand, inappropriate or even dangerous dispensing of medicines may occur overseas. Advice can be obtained from a medical practitioner with experience in travel medicine or specific travel medicine centres such as:

3.2 Emergency Care

Insurance arrangements and contingency plans for emergency medical and dental care and medical evacuation should be made. The University has overseas travel insurance for staff and postgraduate students, but undergraduate students must take out their own. The University's travel insurance cover includes medical evacuation provisions, but these should be confirmed prior to departure. Contact the Insurance Section of the Risk Management Office (ext 12782 or 14127).


3.3 Communications

Transport and communication systems may be more primitive than usually found in Australia. This situation could impact on the ability to maintain regular contacts with the home base and to handle emergency situations efficiently. Transport and communications infrastructure should be assessed prior to departure so that suitable arrangements can be made, as well as alternatives in case of failure of the primary arrangements. A crisis response plan should be developed which can be implemented from home or abroad.

4. Cultural and Social Issues

4.1 Social and/or Religious Constraints

Information should be obtained about any social and/or religious constraints that could impact on the personal security, health or safety of field trip participants. These may include issues such as appropriate dress, appropriate behaviour in public, consumption of alcohol and the like. In particular, many foreign cultures have more conservative expectations concerning women's dress and behaviour than Australia has. Information can be obtained from sources such as reputable travel guide books, local contacts in the destination country, participants on previous field trips to that location, and staff or students with knowledge of that culture.


4.2 Crime

Field trip participants should take precautions to avoid becoming victims of crime during their trips. Due to economic disparities and for other reasons, normal personal safety precautions taken in Australia may be insufficient. Lack of local knowledge, such as what areas to avoid after dark, may make foreigners more vulnerable to crime. In addition, criminals sometimes target foreigners. Field trip participants should try to remain unobtrusive as far as possible. As with social and religious constraints, advice can be obtained from reputable travel guidebooks, local contacts and people with experience of that country or region. In addition, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade issues travel warnings because of crimes directed at foreigners.

5. Political Climate

Field trips should be avoided in areas where the political climate is unstable, where future instability is being predicted (eg during election periods) or where there is, or has been a recent history of, civil unrest, terrorism, kidnapping of foreigners or civil war. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade provides periodic warnings for travellers. The political climate can deteriorate quickly, so there should be some way of monitoring for changes that could have a negative impact on the field trip. Contingency plans should be made in case of deterioration in the political climate.

Field trip participants should avoid demonstrations, marches, strikes, etc and should not get involved in political activities whilst overseas.

6. Other

6.1 Personal Factors

Some individuals may face unusual risks due to their personal circumstances, such as pre-existing medical conditions, allergies, pregnancy, special dietary needs, religious affiliation, or citizenship and nationality issues (eg for participants with dual nationality or those born overseas, especially males who may be liable for military service). Individual participants should consider whether they face any additional risks due to such personal factors.

6.2 Returning to Australia - Quarantine Requirements

Staff and students who participate in fieldwork overseas should ensure appropriate quarantine declarations are made upon returning to Australia. The Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service website has information concerning quarantine declaration requirements.

Permits must be obtained to import various materials into Australia. The AQIS Import Conditions Database (ICON) has information about Australian import conditions for foreign plant, animal, mineral and human materials. Those intending to bring fieldwork samples and equipment back to the University should ensure that appropriate arrangements are made in advance. This includes obtaining any necessary import permits and ascertaining that quarantine approved premises are available at the University if these may be required. Note that sometimes articles that are not themselves restricted may be contaminated with materials that are restricted.

7. References

James Cook University, Policy for Field Work Health and Safety, 1998

NAFSA, Health and Safety Issues in Study Abroad (superseded)

NAFSA, Guidelines for Responsible Study Abroad: Health and Safety (superseded)

NAFSA, Practice Resources: Health, Safety, & Security: Sample Web sites of Programs & Institutions

The Australian College of Occupational Medicine, Working Overseas, 1989

The University of Queensland, Fieldwork Guideline (Draft)

The University of Tasmania, Field Activity Policy, 1999.


See also:

University of Sydney Fieldwork Safety Guidelines, 2001

University of Sydney Health and Safety Guidelines for Clinical Fieldwork, 2001.



Notes
Authorised by the Risk Management Office, 21/5/01
Section 6.2 added 25/03/04
Web version last updated by Leanne Mumford, 21/12/05