Safety During Fieldwork Is Paramount

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The Universities Safety and Health Association (USHA) is an organisation for the promotion of health and safety in higher education. Formed in 1972 there are now over 150 member institutions representing over 300,000 staff. (www.usha.org.uk)

The recent tragedy in Norway, which saw one student killed by a polar bear and two others seriously injured, has been a stark reminder that every precaution needs to be made as far as practicable to ensure people are safe when undertaking fieldwork and expeditions.

Universities, colleges and schools are increasingly incorporating fieldwork into subjects ranging from geography related disciplines to social sciences. Fieldwork is now seen as essential ingredient to enhancing employability and learning, as it offers practical hands on experience in live situations and environments

In 2010 the National Environment Research Council (NERC) led a review of Skills Needs in the Environment Sector. It identified fieldwork as one of 15 critical skills needed by businesses, government and research.

There is also a growing demand within institutions for staff and students to travel to exotic and remote destinations for study and research; this has partly resulted from globalisation and competition within the sector at an international level.

The need for up to date an relevant guidance has never been greater. For the last two years members from the Universities Safety ad Health Association (USHA) project group have been working on a revision of the existing 2005 UCEA/USHA guidance documents on 'Safety in Fieldwork and Overseas Travel'.

The guidance revision was more than a refresh; the review team took account of legal opinion on corporate manslaughter legislation and the British Standard 8848 “Specification for the provision of visits, fieldwork, expeditions, and adventurous activities outside the United Kingdom'.

The document provides a framework for establishing policies that enable staff, students and other participants to undertake fieldwork safely.

The guide contains essential safety guidance on planning, risk assessment, insurance, accommodation, transport, training and more. Ultimately the purpose of the guidance is to support all UK higher education institutions in reducing injuries and ill health arising from fieldwork activities in UK and overseas.

There has been a really positive engagement and contribution from members who submitted their comments during the consultation process. Working with our project partner the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) has proven invaluable to securing important by-in from senior management across the sector.

The project involved re-crafting the format of the previous guide to a user friendly format aligned to the Institute of Directors 'Leading Health and Safety guide'.

Andrew Knight, Chair of the USHA Safety in Fieldwork Project Group and Assistant Head of Health and Safety at the University of Brighton says, “the group worked very effectively as a team and ultimately produced an excellent guidance document which will be of tremendous long term benefit to all higher education institutions in the UK and even internationally”.

The guidance is now being officially launched at the USHA autumn conference taking place on the 13th September 2011 at the Royal Geographical Society in London. There will be a diverse range of exciting and interesting speakers including Jo Royle internationally renowned ocean sailing skipper and environmental campaigner; Tony Willetts of Raleigh International and Paul Verrico of Eversheds International Law Firm.

The event will be of interest to senior managers, Heads of Schools, course leaders, fieldworkers, students, safety advisors, insurance officers, travel health advisors and anyone involved in the planning, setting policy or coordination of fieldwork and overseas travel activities.

The event is open to non members and USHA has 200 complimentary places for students. To book your place visit www.fieldsafety.usha.org.uk

The collaboration and work undertaken between USHA and UCEA has now been shortlisted in the 2011 SHP IOSH Awards in the category 'Partnership Initiative of the Year'. Details of the awards can be found at www.shp-iosh-awards.co.uk.

USHA Chair Clive Parkinson says “the nomination reflects the tremendous hard work that has been undertaken by both parties to bring this guidance up-to-date and ensure it is relevant to secure the safety of our students at all times wherever they are in the world'.

For additional information please contact:

Andrew Knight – Chair of the Project Group -01273 643144 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Lynda Couch-Smith USHA Executive Officer-01273 641882 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.