FIELDWORK SAFETY GUIDELINES - 1. Introduction

1.1 A Climate of Care
1.2 Responsibilities for Fieldwork Safety
1.3 Penalties and Liabilities
1.4 Auditing and Monitoring

1.1 A Climate of Care

The following guidelines focus on establishing a climate in which safety of personnel has primacy, in which staff and students know the policies, procedures and guidelines to help create safe practices. Departments or Groups may elect to manage the risks involved with their fieldwork in a different manner to that described in these guidelines, but these alternative practices must provide at least equivalent or a better level of safety.

There is no successful method of guaranteeing safety of personnel. These guidelines attempt to provide a framework in which it is customary and normal that all possible precautions have been taken and all proper responsibilities met. The major requirements - assessment of risk, planning, training, equipment, communication, responsibilities - are addressed in the guidelines report.

Two particular issues of safety in fieldwork should be noted:

(i) Personal safety must, ultimately, be a personal responsibility. Complacency and inattention, lack of preparation or lack of training will all cause problems. No amount of regulation will replace personal vigilance. Although personal safety is a personal responsibility, this does not relieve supervisors of their duty to ensure students (and staff) are instructed about hazards likely to be encountered during fieldwork and how to deal with them. Nor does it relieve anyone of responsibilities to maintain procedures, equipment and facilities so that they are safe.

(ii) Infrastructure and institutional support for fieldwork is an issue for the Faculties, Academic Colleges and the University to address in order to achieve the climate of care required by these guidelines. Much of the cost of equipment to improve safety in the field currently comes from research grants, in contrast to safety equipment for laboratories, which is often provided through building programs (e.g. fume-cupboards, safety showers, fire safety equipment).


1.2 Responsibilities for Fieldwork Safety

Several pieces of current legislation, Australian Standards and Policies of the University set out responsibilities in respect of aspects of safety during fieldwork. The most general are:

  • NSW Occupational Health and Safety Act: this identifies responsibilities of the employer, managers and supervisors of the employer, for the health, safety and welfare of staff and the health and safety of non-employees (students, members of families of staff, etc.). The University is required to ensure the health and safety of staff and students and to provide instruction, training, supervision, information and safe systems for work.
  • University of Sydney Occupational Health and Safety Policy and Guide for Staff, which commits the University to conformity with legislation about occupational health and safety and to those established good practices, which are already embodied in Australian Standards and the like. This document provides general guidance to staff throughout the University concerning their individual and managerial responsibilities.

Some more specific guidelines and relevant documents are listed in Section 8, including supplementary guidelines on clinical placements and overseas fieldwork.


1.3 Penalties and Liabilities

Breaches of the NSW OHS Act carry maximal penalties (for the first offence) of $ 550,000 for the University and $ 55,000 for individuals. Higher penalties of up to $ 825,000 for the University, and $ 82,500 plus two years gaol for individuals, can be imposed for a second or subsequent breach. Managers, supervisors and those in control of workplaces and classes may be individually liable for all risks to health and safety about which they should have known and for which they should have taken all possible precautions. The University is also vicariously liable for the actions of its employees.


1.4 Auditing and Monitoring

Because of the diversity of needs and conditions for fieldwork, these guidelines are planned to operate by self-regulation and auditing for compliance with good practice. Thus, it is the responsibility of anyone planning, co-ordinating or overseeing fieldwork to comply with the guidelines. Auditing will be done to ensure that practices are safe, updated, well-known and current. Auditing provides a method for ensuring that self-regulation is, in fact, working. See section 7 for details.