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Health and Safety Code for off-site activities

Thank you for taking the time to read this Code thoroughly.

The University of Exeter takes the health and safety of all students very seriously. It is important that you are fully aware of the requirements of both the University and yourself — this code provides full details of the expectations of both parties.

If you have any queries about any of the content please do not hesitate to ask a member of staff at any point during your time with us.

The University of Exeter must exercise a "duty of care" to employees and to those under its supervision, including students. This duty is recognised by both criminal and civil law. Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (MHSW, 1999) the duty of care is defined more explicitly as a duty of line management, and requires a formal risk assessment of hazards in a work activity, such as field work, to be assessed and notes that each individual is responsible, by law, for his/her own safety and for the safety of others.

Under the provisions of the legislation:

  • The Head of Department must ensure the risk assessment of the fieldwork is made and to ensure that a safe system of work has been established for all staff and students. The Head of School has delegated the duty to do this to the member of staff organising/supervising the fieldwork.
  • Staff and Students undertaking the fieldwork will be fully informed of the nature of the work and associated hazards.
  • Students are required to take full account of information, training, instructions and warnings issued by members of staff. Furthermore, all students are required to conduct their work and activities in such a way as not to expose themselves or others to unnecessary risks, such as physical injury or getting lost. These requirements apply at all times during the field class (i.e. including leisure time as, even during this time, students remain under the legal supervision of staff). Failure to meet them will result in suspension from the field class which will result in non-fulfilment of course requirements.

Specific requirements and instructions will vary according to the nature of the fieldwork and the venue, and will be provided by the members of staff teaching the field class.

Students taking part in any off-site activity are specifically instructed to obey all safety instructions given by the group leaders.
Anyone not conforming to the standards required will be dismissed from the field class.

A detailed risk assessment is undertaken in advance of any field class with a view to issuing appropriate instructions and warnings to the undergraduates attending. Where hazards are minimal, such instructions and warnings may be issued verbally, but where there are significant hazards identified (e.g. for a field class in a mountain area) written instructions will be distributed to all students. You are required to familiarise yourself with any instructions, verbal or written, given to you before or during fieldwork.

The following applies to all students undertaking fieldwork, whatever your proposed actions are:

  • Identify any hazards
  • Assess any risk
  • Make necessary arrangements to avoid the hazard or minimise the risk, abandoning the proposed action if necessary.


Appropriate clothing and footwear must be worn at all times.

Ill-equipped students will not be permitted to participate in field classes.

During cold weather or in harsh environments:

  • A reserve of warm clothing should be carried
  • Warm, waterproof headgear is recommended, since considerable heat may be lost from the head
  • The trunk should be protected by a thick wool/fibre jumper over normal shirt and underwear, and a waterproof (not showerproof) and windproof jacket/cagoule/macintosh should be worn, ensuring lower back and waist are covered
  • Loose fitting, heavy-heavy duty trousers containing wool/cotton fibres should be worn, and tight jeans are not recommended — waterproof over trousers give added protection in inclement weather
  • Hands should be protected by gloves
  • Footwear should be suitable for the terrain — in most cases the ideal is good walking boots and thick socks although other suitable footwear with good tread and support (but not plimsolls) may be permitted

During hot sunny weather:

Keep head and trunk covered with thin, light-coloured garments to avoid sunstroke and wear a hat.

For additional protection, use a high-factor sun-block lotion.


  • A safety helmet conforming to British Standard 5240 must be worn by workers near cliff bottoms or quarry faces, or in mines, tunnels, caves and other places where there is risk to the head
  • Safety goggles conforming to British Standard 2092 must be worn when chipping rock or wood
  • Workers in remote areas must always carry a map and a compass, know how to take a bearing, keep known landmarks in sight
  • Those-working on or close to rivers, lakes and the sea shore must wear waterproof and/or buoyancy clothing appropriate to the circumstances and take adequate advance precautions if working in abnormal conditions (e.g. floods, storms).


  • When working in remote areas, be accompanied whenever possible, be aware of future weather and of tide times for coastal studies, and have a supply of light, nutritious and high calorific value food items (e.g. chocolate, cheese)
  • Seek permission before entering private land and working quarries, and pay attention to local rules in quarries relating to blasting times and unstable rock faces
  • In hot weather, carry water in a polythene bottle and also a source of salt
  • If travelling overseas, make sure you obtain any recommended immunisations — anti-tetanus injections are advisable, particularly if working with soil or peat
  • In advance of a field class, ensure that you have completed or up-dated your In Case of Emergency Form, which includes details of an emergency contact name, address and phone number in the event of an accident or illness 
  • Any medical condition, which could impair your field activities, should be brought to the attention of the class leader.


  • Avoid lone working, it essential to follow university lone working standard at all times
  • In urban areas, beware of traffic and observe the Highway Code
  • Do not loiter or walk alone through socially-deprived or sensitive areas
  • Do not antagonise the local population, and respect local traditions
  • All social surveys must be conducted with tact and common sense; in particular, do not antagonise interviewees
  • In remote areas, always carry a fully charged mobile phone and/or a GPS, and also note location of nearest telephone and emergency post/bothy
  • Always wash your hands when returning from fieldwork where you have handled soil, sediments, vegetation, river/lake water, etc
  • Keep rucksack loads below 14 kg (30 Ibs)
  • Do not endanger yourself or others through abuse of drugs or alcohol (see below for School policy).

Country Code

When working in the field, be aware that someone owns the land and treat private property with respect and care

  • Keep to footpaths where they are provided
  • Do not climb over or through hedges or fences but always use stiles and/or gates, leaving the latter as you find them
  • Never climb trees
  • Do not drop litter or leave debris at rock exposures
  • Do not light (uncontrolled) fires or discard smoldering cigarettes — those working among or near dry vegetation, such as gorse or dead bracken must not smoke or undertake any other operation that might cause fire, and all objects that might subsequently cause fire, such as glass, should be removed from the site
  • Do not frighten amiable livestock or unduly disturb wildlife (plant and animal)
  • Do not take chances with unnamable livestock — be aware that some animals can be aggressive and do not place yourself at risk.

In areas designated Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), Regionally Important Geological Sites (RIGS), Nature Reserves, or Scheduled Ancient Monuments keep disruption to a minimum. Potentially damaging operations (i.e. hammering and collection of samples) at geological 55515 is forbidden without obtaining special permission. The local Tourist Office or Ranger Service can advise on the location of these sites.

Visiting Archaeological Sites

  • Follow common sense safety procedures at all times
  • Follow specific instructions given by class leaders and by site owners/custodians/public agencies
  • Do not interfere with the access/enjoyment of other members of the public who are visiting the site.

Working on Archaeological Field Projects

  • Follow general instructions provided in course documentation
  • Follow specific instructions provided, verbally and/or in writing, by the project director
  • Follow common-sense safety procedures at all times.


Learn an international Distress signal:

  • Morse code SOS (...---...) made by radio, torch or whistle
  • Repeated raising and lowering of outstretched arms or branch or stick
  • Six blasts of a whistle, or flashing of light.

If a party is lost:

  • Keep together.
  • If benighted, shelter from wind, put on all spare clothing, and huddle together for warmth.
  • If possible, you must immediately report any accident or illness to the group or class leader.
  • If someone is injured, the casualty must be kept warm, insulated from cold ground and tended by others. The casualty must not be moved, especially if internal damage is suspected, unless absolutely necessary. Administer First Aid and send for medical assistance. If a casualty has to be left behind when seeking help, remember:
  • Two persons, if possible, should leave to seek help
  • Mark position of casualty with a visible object (e.g. coloured jacket) tied to a tree or a pole
  • Note position on map
  • Travel to nearest habitation for telephone and assistance

Be alert to the dangers of hypothermia (severe loss of body heat) caused by cold, wet and fatigue. Symptoms may include:

  • Uncharacteristic behaviour; complaints of coldness and tiredness; inability to focus eyes
  • Muscle cramp, ashen complexion, shivering, dizziness, fainting.

Death results if heat loss is not halted, and the following emergency treatment should be applied:

  • Remove casualty out of wind and rain, insulate from ground, cover with blankets, clothes, or polythene sheets to minimise heat loss
  • Give sweet tepid liquid to drink, but never give alcohol, hot water bottle or massage
  • Seek medical aid immediately if possible.

Independent Fieldwork

The information below applies to all students undertaking fieldwork not directly accompanied by a member of staff (e.g. undergraduates doing independent mapping, or postgraduate students doing fieldwork).

As much fieldwork is done in isolated areas where there are potential hazards, another person should always accompany you. This means that two or more students must work in close contact at all times. In addition, if you are in a mountainous or particularly dangerous area (e.g. near high cliffs or on a tidal beach) someone else must know where you are working each day and your expected time of return, so that they can raise the alarm if you do not return home at the expected time.

ALL the provisions in sections above are also applicable for independent fieldwork. In addition, the following rules must also be followed:

  • Almost all the ground on which you will do fieldwork is privately owned. Always obtain permission to enter private property, and follow the recognised procedure for visits to quarries, etc. Be careful to report in after completion of the work. This is not only the proper and courteous thing to do, but is also necessary for good relations generally.
  • Discuss likely safety problems or risks, and check equipment, with your supervisor or other member of academic staff before departure or commencement of work. Take advice from those with experience of the particular area where you will be working so that you can learn of any special, unexpected or unusual hazards (e.g. old mineshafts, potholes, dangerous animals).
  • Plan the fieldwork carefully, bearing in mind experience and training, the nature of the terrain, and the weather. Be careful not to overestimate what can be achieved in a given time.
  • Learn the mountain safety and caving codes, and in particular the causes and effects of exposure (hypothermia). Rock-climbing, caving and underwater swimming may be useful in research activities, but are dangerous for the unskilled or ill equipped, and should not be required for the successful completion of any project in the School of Geography.
  • Never go into the field without leaving word (preferably written) and a map showing expected location and time of return. Never carelessly break arrangements to report your return to local people.
  • Check weather forecasts. Keep a constant lookout for changes in the weather. Do not hesitate to turn back if the weather deteriorates.
  • Know what to do in an emergency(e.g. accident illness, bad weather, darkness). If a serious accident does happen:
    • Do not move the casualty unless absolutely necessary to administer life-saving first-aid. Check that the casualty is breathing and has a pulse. If not, give appropriate first-aid immediately.
    • If the casualty's injuries are not life threatening, check that you and the casualty are safe from further injury. Only move the casualty if at risk from further injury.
      Administer first aid. Ensure that the casualty is kept warm and reassured. Never give the casualty an alcoholic drink.
    • Send for help (e.g. to get the Mountain Rescue or an Ambulance). If in a party or more than 4, send 2 people with a written note detailing precise number of casualties, their location, nature of injuries, and time of accident. If in a party of 2 do not leave an unconscious casualty unless absolutely necessary. Attract attention by using international distress signals. If sent for help, phone 999 and ask for ambulance or police for mountain rescue.
    • Whilst waiting for the emergency services to arrive:
    • Monitor the casualty — keep written notes if possible.
    • Keep the victim warm and provide shelter from wind and rain.
    • Monitor yourself and the rest of the party — you may be at increased risk of hypothermia.
  • Carry at all times a small first-aid kit, some emergency food (chocolate, biscuits, mint cake, glucose tablets) and drink (not alcohol), a survival bag (or large plastic bag), a whistle, map, compass and watch.
  • Avoid being trapped by the tide on intertidal banks or below cliffs. Obtain local information about tides and currents. Pay particular attention to tidal range. Always wear footwear when wading in rivers, lagoons, or on the shore. Beware of polluted areas of water (e.g. near sewage outfalls).
  • Know the international distress signal, which is 6 long whistle blasts, torch flashes or waves of a light-coloured cloth repeated at one minute intervals. The rescue services reply to a distress signal is 3 short blasts.

It is our policy that that students, when taking part in off-site activities, behave in the appropriate manner, exhibiting maturity and responsibility at all times.

Unfortunately, from past experience we know that alcohol abuse is one of the primary causes of incidents during field courses. The effects of alcohol abuse can not only cause harm to the individual but also other members of the group, and students are reminded that each individual is responsible, by law, for his/her own safety and for the safety of others.

Students should be mindful of the Government Guidelines on alcohol consumption per week:

  • 14 units for women and men

Consumption of these units should be spread evenly across the week and not consumed in one sitting (i.e. not more than 2 units in one 24 hour period).

When travelling abroad students must follow local laws regarding the consumption of alcohol.

Any student who abuses alcohol or drugs during a fieldtrip, or behaves inappropriately as a result of drugs or excessive alcohol, will have their fieldtrip terminated and, where appropriate, sent home at their own expense. This may lead to the failure of the relevant module.