Field Work Safety

1. Introduction and Scope

By virtue of the University Health and Safety Mission, associated University policies, and the general provisions of the Quebec Occupational Health and Safety Act, McGill University is committed to taking every reasonable precaution for the health and safety of its employees and students.

The range of academic activities conducted in the field is as broad as the multiplicity of the interests amongst the disciplines of teaching and research in the University. These projects can take place over the surface of the planet, its seabed or in outer space. Managing risks associated with such activities present unique challenges given that most safety and emergency response services provided to the University community are not always available beyond the boundaries of the campuses. This makes it ever so important for the persons supervising and working on such projects to be competent and well prepared to manage risks in an autonomous fashion. This is particularly pertinent for those who work in remote locations where emergency response support and medical facilities are less available or where environmental conditions or safety regulations are not up to Canadian, Quebec, or McGill standards.

2. Responsibility

Responsibility for safety begins with the individuals involved in the project. The oversight responsibility for safety in field research rests upon the persons who directly supervise and carry out the research. This is reflected in the McGill University Health and Safety Internal Responsibility System, a system that is designed to ensure oversight, responsibility and accountability for health and safety, irrespective of location. Such persons are expected to prepare themselves accordingly and to apply due diligence principles to their activities. This means that concerned parties give due attention to the risks associated with each location and kind of field research, as well as having contingency plans to deal with emergencies that may occur. This also means that participants in these activities must be duly informed as to the risks involved and consent to the means for controlling such risks.

3. Planning and Preparation

Prior to embarking on any research project, it must be evaluated from a safety perspective and if it is concluded that the risks are not manageable then the project should not be carried out. There are various points within the chain of command described in the McGill University Health and Safety Internal Responsibility System where this decision may be rendered. Normally this assessment is conducted by the Unit/Department heading up the project, however if the hazards involved fall outside of the expertise of the research group it is required that suitable expertise be obtained to assist.

Planning and preparation includes, but is not limited to, the following:

  • Identifying the hazards associated with the project
  • Assessing the risks associated with the project
  • Determining the controls required to manage the risk to an acceptable level
  • Putting in place a safety plan to address the risks
  • Getting departmental/unit clearance
  • Identifying the participants and verifying their qualifications and applicable certifications e.g. first aid, diving, etc.
  • Training and equipping the participants
  • Assigning and documenting the tasks and roles and responsibilities of all of the participants
  • Advising participants of risks and obtaining their informed consent to participate and to agree to the means of controlling the risks
  • Assuring a satisfactory state of health and immunization status of the participants
  • Preparing first aid and emergency supplies.
  • Identifying and preparing protective equipment and safety gear
  • Arrangement for appropriate facilities to conduct the work
  • Preparation of any hazardous materials for their safe transportation
  • Making pre-arrangements for the ultimate safe and environmentally sound disposal of any wastes generated by the work
  • Arranging for appropriate transportation to and from the site
  • Arranging for adequate food and accommodations
  • Preparing contingency plans for emergency transport, provisions, accommodations, medical care.
  • Identifying any requirements or legislation of foreign governments or other jurisdictions that must be respected
  • Ensuring leadership of the project on a continuous basis
  • Advising the necessary authorities regarding insurances including medical, travel and general liability (see Appendix A) and regarding benefit plan coverage (see Appendix B)

Note: Please see Appendices for supplementary material

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