General Guidelines

Fieldwork is a professional activity, requiring professionalism in its planning. These general statements provide a framework for planning fieldwork activities and training staff and students.

Planning and Assessment of Risk

All fieldwork must be planned in advance, including assessment of the possible risks. The management of risks is essentially a four-step process:

  1. identifying the risks, ie those things that may impede the successful outcome of the fieldwork;
  2. assessing their likelihood and the potential consequences of them;
  3. controlling them;
  4. monitoring and reviewing the effectiveness of the risk control measures and improving them as needed

The staff member leading the trip (or the staff member supervising the students involved if there are no staff participating) is responsible for ensuring that adequate advance planning and assessment of risk are done. The same assessment of risk should be used whether the trip involves a large number of undergraduate students travelling by coach, a small group of postgraduate students or a party of two or three experienced staff travelling to a remote area.

Checklists of possible risks and how to identify them are helpful and Departments are urged to produce, review and update these. Examples of typical risks include extremes of weather, use of hazardous substances or harmful biological agents, driving vehicles and use of boats. Issues to be considered in assessment and reduction of risk during fieldwork include:

  • the chain of command for the group, which should be determined explicitly in advance so that there is reduced confusion in the event of accidents or other untoward circumstances;
  • the number of people in the group (a minimum of two is preferred) and their experience with fieldwork of the type being done;
  • the nature of the work and the area where it is done, including its remoteness, terrain, likely weather conditions including possible weather extremes, possibility of encountering dangerous animals or plants (or people!);
  • the methods and availability of transport and assistance in case of breakdown or accident;
    the availability of reliable channels of communication;
  • inclusion in the party of people who have training in first aid and provision of adequate first aid kits;
  • the use of dangerous chemicals, explosives, mechanical equipment, electrical equipment or harmful biological agents in the work being done;
    work in or near water;
  • working at heights or below the ground;
  • generation of hazardous wastes;
  • timing and length of travel;
  • adequacy of water and other provisions such as food, fuel, shelter, etc;
  • the fitness, health and competencies of the people in the group (e.g. knowing medical conditions, swimming ability, etc assists in deciding whether risks are acceptable or not, and planning alternatives).

Suitable maps should be available for routes to and from the fieldwork site, and of the fieldwork area, including information about relevant support services etc.

Safety and First Aid

Groups doing fieldwork must have adequate first aid training and supplies, as appropriate to the type of work and the hazards that may be encountered, and the size of the field trip party. In terms of first aid training, current certification at "Senior" first aid level should be considered to be a minimum standard. Precautions must be taken to minimize the potential for accidents of any kind, but if accidents do occur it is essential to manage them by having made appropriate preparations.

Recommended contents of first aid kits are listed in the University's First Aid Policy and Procedures. Where appropriate, portable survival kits are necessary and should be made available. Note that standard type C vehicle kits are almost certainly inadequate for fieldwork and Departments will need to develop their own kits to suit their specific needs.

Survival in untoward circumstances in remote areas, at sea, or in deserts requires specialist knowledge, skills, preparation and training. Anyone involved in such work must prepare, revise and update lists of requirements and procedures. These should be known by all participants.


Reliable means of communication are essential for all fieldwork. What is needed will obviously vary according to the circumstances and, in some cases (e.g. boating), there are statutory requirements. It is essential that, if something goes wrong, assistance can be summoned and emergency services notified. Mobile phones are one convenient form of communication, but they are not suitable for all circumstances or areas.

It is also necessary for contacts not involved in the work to be able to alert others to take action whenever regular contact breaks down and there is evidence that something has gone wrong. The person or persons nominated to be the contact must be competent.

Global positioning systems (GPS) should be used in boats and land vehicles used for remote fieldwork.

Use of Vehicles

Only licensed and appropriately trained drivers should be in charge of field vehicles. The Head of Department should ensure that there is a system in place for checking for appropriate and current driving licences, placing restrictions on use of vehicles, e.g. for untrained or inexperienced persons, and giving express permission for vehicle use. It is advisable for the Department to have guidelines on use and limitations of vehicles. Purchase of diesel vehicles is recommended for reasons of greater fuel safety, particularly for off-road use.

Only registered vehicles are to be used. Vehicles used for field trips should be well-maintained according to the manufacturer's service specifications and equipped with adequate spare parts and tools, according to the area and length of trip. Care must be taken when loading vehicles to maintain as low a centre of gravity as possible and to secure items adequately in the cabin. Vehicles must be driven with caution and attention to prevailing road and weather conditions. Only vehicles designed and/or equipped for the purpose should be taken off sealed roads.

The vehicle should be selected for the type of terrain likely to be encountered. Drivers should be familiar with the vehicle before setting out on the trip. Drivers intending to use four wheel drive (4WD) vehicles should have received training in 4WD or be able to demonstrate experience in driving such vehicles. Drivers should be familiar with routine maintenance procedures such as checking oil, water, tyre pressure, coolant, and battery, and changing tyres. Drivers should also be aware of the fuel capacity and range of the vehicle.

Prior to setting out on the trip, the driver should check the vehicle to ensure it has been adequately maintained and has all the necessary tools, spare parts and special equipment for the trip. A check should be made that the luggage is secure.

Rest stops and fuel stops should be used to check that the vehicle is operating normally with respect to tyre pressure, engine leaks, etc, and that the luggage remains secured. Every day, before setting out, check the oil, water, fuel, battery fluid, coolant, brake fluid, and tyre pressures, and that controls are working.

Driving times and distances should be planned to prevent fatigue. Usually a driver should not drive for more than about 2 hours before changing over or taking a short break that incorporates some light physical activity such as walking. A maximum of around 650 km per day should be planned, although greater distances may be safely covered, depending on road, traffic and weather conditions, and the number and experience of available drivers. Driving at night is more hazardous than during daytime (because of reduced visibility, biorhythm, level of stimulation) and should be minimised.

Drivers should always heed applicable road rules, including those pertaining to consumption of alcohol. Driving should always be done at safe and legal speeds. Safe speeds depend upon the road and weather conditions, experience of the driver, time of day, alertness of the driver and the vehicle itself. Unfamiliarity with the road or conditions and the presence of nocturnal animals contribute to driving hazards.

Occupants should wear seat belts when travelling in vehicles. Luggage should always be securely stowed. Netting or solid barriers between the boot and cabin protect occupants from loose objects, which may be propelled through the cabin if the vehicle stops suddenly.

For field trips involving large numbers of students travelling by bus or coach, the coach company or its representatives may impose its/their own rules to ensure safety and comfort for all passengers. The field trip leader should ensure that everyone obeys these.

The legal requirements limiting consumption of alcohol by vehicle operators and prohibiting alcohol consumption by people less than 18 years of age apply as minimal standards of the University. The fieldwork leader may apply more stringent standards if these are considered warranted by his or her assessment of the fieldwork task, for example, if it involves hazardous environment or practices, inexperienced personnel, etc.

Use of Boats

In a School or Department where boats are used, the staff involved with the fieldwork must be familiar with relevant maritime legislation (as set out in the NSW Safe Boating Handbook published by the Waterways Authority) , at least one copy of which must be held somewhere accessible in the Department. Boating field trips must comply with the requirements of maritime legislation. Personnel in charge of boats are responsible for ensuring they have the appropriate licences and any appropriate boat registrations are obtained.

Boats must be used in accordance with the NSW Safe Boating Handbook. Boats capable of 10 knots or more must be registered. Boats should be well-maintained and equipped with adequate spare parts and tools, according to the area worked and the length of the trip. Care must be taken when loading boats. The maximum capacity that the boat can carry must be displayed on the boat and must not be exceeded. Boats must contain adequate safety devices such as distress flares, personal flotation devices, etc. Only boats designed and equipped for the purpose may be taken out to the open sea. A radio transceiver is required for vessels going more than 2 nautical miles offshore. Safety equipment requirements for enclosed and open waters are listed in the Handbook.

Only licensed and appropriately trained personnel should be in charge of boats. Boats must be driven with caution and attention to prevailing conditions. Navigation skills may also be required. Only those personnel necessary and trained for the fieldwork may be carried in boats. Personnel other than employees and enrolled students of the University must have authorization from the relevant Head of Department to travel in boats. No one may go out boating alone. The minimum size of a boating field work party is two and at least one must be a competent swimmer.

Before setting out on boating trips, check prevailing and predicted weather conditions. Boat trips should not be undertaken in poor weather (eg high winds, rough seas) or when poor weather is predicted over the period of the planned trip. Even when good weather is predicted, changing weather should be anticipated in planning the trip.

Prior to setting out, check the vessel for safety equipment, personal flotation devices, fully charged battery, correct fuel mix, spare plugs, cotter pins, anchor and small bucket for bailing.

Use of Other Specialized Equipment

Many types of fieldwork require use of specialist equipment (e.g. vibracorers, drills, etc.). In all cases, the Departmental Fieldwork Safety Officer or equivalent should ensure that proper maintenance of equipment is done, that personnel are trained properly in use of the equipment and that all parts, tools and manuals for the operation of the equipment are available for the trip.

SCUBA Diving

Diving can only be authorized when it is done in accordance with the relevant Australian Standards and other established safe practices. The relevant Australian Standards include:

  • AS/NZS 2299.1 - Australian /New Zealand Standard: Occupational Diving Operations - Part 1: Standard operational practice
  • AS/NZS 2299.2 - Australian /New Zealand Standard: Occupational Diving Operations - Part 2: Scientific diving
  • AS/NZS 2299.3 - Australian /New Zealand Standard: Occupational Diving Operations - Part 3: Recreational industry diving and snorkeling operations
  • AS 2815.1- Australian Standard: Training and certification of occupational divers Part 1: SCUBA diving to 30m.

No diving should be done - even to "help with a student's project" - unless these standards are met.

Lack of compliance for postgraduate diving and particularly on unauthorized undergraduate projects and field-excursions is unacceptable.

  • advance planning includes carrying out and documenting risk assessments and submitting dive proposals to the Diving Officer for approval prior to the dive
  • before every dive, the dive coordinator, divers, divers’ attendants and any non-diving support personnel must agree on a pre-dive plan, update the risk assessment and document these for submission to the Diving Officer on return to the University
  • only registered competent divers approved by the Diving Officer who are medically fit to dive may participate in University scientific diving operations
  • competent diving coordinators and dive leaders must be appointed to supervise all diving operations
  • diving operations must not exceed a maximum depth of 30 m
  • no one is authorised to dive alone
  • all members of a dive team must be familiar with the procedures to be followed and the equipment to be used
  • divers are responsible for maintaining a permanent record of their own diving activities
  • all unusual incidents, unexpected hazards, accidents and injuries must be reported promptly to the Diving Officer and Supervisor, and recorded via RiskWare.

General aspects of fieldwork set out elsewhere in these guidelines must also be taken into account when planning and carrying out scientific diving.

3.8 Coastal and Estuarine Work

When planning coastal and estuarine work, information about tides, currents, weather and other factors affecting safety must be considered. Work on rock-platforms can be particularly hazardous and adequate precautions must be taken to prevent members of a group being swept from rocks or injured by unexpected waves. Training, experience of team-leaders and adequate personnel to ensure continuous vigilance are required. Ensure that appropriate clothing, including footwear is worn by all personnel (this is particularly important if someone has to go to the aid of someone else who is in difficulty).

3.9 Terrestrial Fieldwork

Precautions required for terrestrial fieldwork vary according to the type of environment and likely weather conditions, including possible weather extremes which may be encountered. Rainforest, desert or mountain environments present different hazards. The Department should develop guidelines and codes of practice for each type of terrestrial fieldwork it conducts. Staff and students should receive training to ensure that all members of a particular fieldwork party know the guidelines/codes of practice relevant to the environment being visited.