Why It’s Important
Climate monitoring work can take place on water, ice or in rugged terrain, in remote areas, and under potentially hazardous conditions. The risk of harm, injury or illness can be significant, even including the possible loss of life, and if something goes wrong, help can be a long distance away. Ensuring members of your project are properly trained in emergency preparedness and field safety and even preparing a health and safety plan, can help to identify and minimize these risks. If an emergency happens during a project, having a response plan in place will save precious time that may be needed to rescue or assist a team member experiencing an emergency.
All workers, including unpaid workers, in Canada are entitled to a right to know what hazards they may be exposed to during their work, to get any training, knowledge, and supervision needed to protect their safety, to be involved in activities or decisions related to protecting or maintaining their safety and the right to refuse unsafe work. Workers also have responsibilities to follow their employer’s health and safety procedures to protect themselves and their co-workers or team. Protecting the health and safety of you and your team is essential, and a plan that supports the health and safety of the team is good for everyone working on the project.
Key Questions and Considerations
The following section summarizes key questions and considerations related to health and safety. Consult the CLAW Health and Safety guidance document [LINK] for a more detailed set of considerations related to health and safety while conducting climate monitoring.
Health and Safety Plans
A health and safety plan (HASP) is a tool that can be used to reduce the risk of team members being harmed, injured, or developing an illness from doing fieldwork. Creating a HASP will help you to identify health and safety hazards, determine their risk, and plan safer ways to do your fieldwork.
A health and safety plan should be developed for each new project, and the plan should be updated if there are big changes to the project work. It’s best for all team members to help with creating the plan. Project leads should encourage the team to recognize that everyone’s input is valuable. Young and inexperienced workers are more likely to be injured during fieldwork, so their input and opinions are particularly beneficial.
Each health and safety plan should involve the following:
- List the tasks: Identify various steps required in your monitoring project.
- Identify possible hazards for each task: Think about each task one-by-one and think about what hazards the team may face when carrying out that task.
- List possible exposure: Think about what could go wrong (the “consequences”) if you’re exposed to a hazard.
- Reduce the risk: Starting with the activities with the most risk, decide as a group if there’s a safer way to complete the task, following these two key steps:
- Identify existing controls: Are there any safety measures or practices already in place that would help protect the team member(s) from getting injured, becoming ill or suffering other types of harm (e.g., mental distress) while performing the task? For example, proper personal protective equipment, or extra equipment or supplies that are already being packed for the trip.
- Consider additional controls: Decide as a group if any changes can or should be made to the current project plan to better protect the team member, if while performing the task, they get exposed to the hazard.
- Assign responsibility: Decide who will put each safety measure into action.
- Emergency preparedness: Make plans for how the team will respond to foreseeable emergency situations.
The process of identifying hazards is sometimes also called a “job hazard analysis” or “job hazard breakdown”. Lists of hazards, examples of job hazard analyses, and a template for developing your own hazard analysis are provided in the resources section among other resources.
Your Health and Safety Plan should be written down and discussed as a team. Choose the format that will work best for you and your team to make sure the plan is easily accessible to the team. It’s recommended that discussions or meetings are recorded where possible. Revisit your health and safety frequently to ensure it’s up to date.
Health and Safety Training
Health and safety training helps reinforce the importance of working safely and prepares the team to conduct fieldwork in a safe manner. There are a variety of available courses related to health and safety. Take the time to identify each team member’s individual training needs. Training should be repeated as often as necessary to make sure team members have a full understanding of the training topics and are able to complete their assigned tasks safely. Keep records of training as a reminder of when team members last received the training and refresher training may be needed.
Advanced wilderness first aid training is essential training for all projects. St. Johns Ambulance, the Canadian Red Cross, and other reputable providers deliver a variety of first aid training courses on a regular basis. Other types of training may be essential for many projects (e.g., wilderness survival skills, ice safety, boat operation, bear awareness, etc.), and this should be evaluated on a project-by-project basis. See the health and safety section in the training inventory for a sample of training courses to consider. This is not an exhaustive list and it’s important that you identify the training which is right for your team.
While emergency situations are rare, it’s best to have a plan so that project team members know how to respond in an event. Emergency plans should be written (i.e., paper or electronic documents), made accessible to all project members, and team members should have the ability to access them quickly (e.g., carry a copy with them in the field). It’s best to include emergency plans as a section of the health and safety plan .
An emergency plan for a project is different from a project health and safety plan in two important ways:
- Emergency plans focus on the highest-risk hazards or conditions, and focus on the most severe possible consequences of exposure to those hazards (i.e., someone’s life could be put in danger right away, or could be put in danger if a rescue is not performed).
- An emergency plan provides a list of the key information and procedures that are needed to respond to the emergency in a quick and organized way.
Developing an emergency plan requires the following basic steps:
- Create a list of possible life-threatening hazards on the project and the consequences for each hazard. You may have already done this while creating the project health and safety plan.
- Based on the hazards and consequences, decide what actions would be needed, and in what order those actions need to be taken, to respond to the emergency and remove the project team members from danger.
Think about the following when developing an emergency plan:
- How will communications be handled?
- What persons, organizations, equipment or other resources will be required?
- Who will conduct search and rescue activities if required?
- How will search and rescue activities be coordinated, and who is in charge?
- How should team members protect themselves during an environmental emergency?
- What supplies and equipment should team members have with them to handle an emergency until help arrives?
- What training do team members need to have to respond to an emergency until help arrives?
- When or how will it be decided that the emergency is over, and no additional response is needed?
Training drills to practice for an identified emergency are useful to practice skills and improve your preparedness for a real emergency.
A good wilderness first aid kit is needed for all projects. There’s no basic first aid kit that works well for every project, and kits should therefore be customized for the project. Additional medical supplies and survival gear/supplies may (refer to Resources section below [LINK: Survival Gear and Medical and First-Aid Supplies Checklist] also be needed based on project conditions and the health of the team.
Field work can pose a number of additional risks to health and safety which may require special consideration. Your fieldwork safety approach should include plans for the following:
- Establishing a trip plan with a route that reduces the risk to health and safety of project members
- Communicating your trip plan and having a plan to communicate in the event of an emergency, by:
- Telling others your expected return time, or;
- Carrying one or more communication devices such as a satellite phone, inReach device, or SPOT device
- Knowing what to do if you become lost, or your vehicle, ATV or snowmobile breaks down.
- Ensure team members (as appropriate) have knowledge and/or experience with building a shelter and safe operation of a firearm
- Ensuring every team member has appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and protective clothing
- Ensuring that team members are trained in the safe operation of land vehicles and boats
- Ensuring that team members understand how to protect their mental and physical health during an emergency
Working alone when doing fieldwork should be avoided. There’s a much greater risk of injury or harm for a team member working alone. If working alone can’t be avoided, use additional safety measures to reduce the risk.
Staying Safe in the Field
Make sure you share your trip plan with your supervisor and let them know when you expect to return. Be sure to bring a communication device (or two for back up) with you in case you or your team members need help while in the field
Did you know that operating a vehicle – be it a car, truck, ATV, or snowmobile – is one of the most significant risks with field work? To reduce the risks, consider developing a Journey Management Plan and check out these resources: Journey Management Toolkit and Journey Management Planning.
- Health and Safety Guidance Document – CLAW, prepared for Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada.
- Health and Safety Plan Checklist
- Examples of completed health and safety plans and templates
- Field Activities Plan – University of Alberta
- Job Hazard Analysis – U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service
- Field Activities Plan – Modified for COVID-19 – Simon Fraser University
- Safety Planning Record – University of Regina
- Remote Fieldwork Safety Plan – Oregon State University
- Sample Job Hazard Analysis Form
- Sample Hazard Checklist
- Examples of Hazards and Possible Controls
- Training and Certification Programs Inventory: Health and Safety Section – Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada
- Survival Gear and Medical and First-Aid Supplies Checklist
- Run a Safe Operation – Indigenous Guardians Toolkit