The health and safety implications of taking students out on fieldwork are well documented. Concerns about potential risks and possible litigation are one reason for the decline of fieldwork in our schools.
Despite this, it is relatively simple to ensure that your trip is safe, and given the number of students who attend fieldtrips, accidents are rare.
Staff at the Field Studies Council's Brockhole Centre in the Lake District National Park give the following advice to teachers planning fieldwork:
Health and safety on field trips
Needless to say, no field trip should be planned and undertaken without first ensuring the health, safety and welfare of all those involved. The Department for Education (DfE) good practice guide provides the main source of guidance for leaders and helpers in connection with adventure activities and for educational visits.
Education Secretary Michael Gove said of the new guidance:
"Children should be able to go on exciting school trips that broaden their horizons. That is why we are cutting unnecessary red tape in schools and putting teachers back in charge. This new, slimmer advice means a more common sense approach to health and safety. It will make it easier for schools to make lessons more inspiring and fun".
Great care is needed when planning fieldwork involving river studies as even the most innocent stream can turn into a raging torrent following a period of rain in the Lake District. Organisers and fieldwork managers need to be clear about the principles underpinning health and safety and to ensure they meet the criteria of their Local Authority, governing body and head teacher before delivering learning outside the classroom.
- Plan methodically
- Keep learning as the main focus
- Follow guidance and best practice
- Be clear about responsibilities
- Consider the what if scenarios
- Incorporate appropriate training
- Stay safe and have fun
- Put in place a viable Plan B for unforeseen circumstances
Sites being visited for fieldwork need to be risk assessed. Leaders must be competent in dynamic risk assessment for the activity so they can continuously evaluate the implications of changing conditions. Remember the five important steps to risk assessment. Having identified the hazards: Identify the hazards then:
Decide who might be harmed and how
Avoid hazards if at all possible by removing them
Evaluate the risk and decide on precautions
Record findings and implement them
Review and update assessments (A hazard is anything that could reasonably be expected to cause harm, and a risk is the chance, high or low, that someone may be harmed.)
An example risk assessment, Health and Safety Five Steps to Risk Assessment and case study guidance notes can be downloaded from the Health and Safety Executive website.
10 Vital Questions
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have identified 10 vital questions that should be asked about the arrangements in place for a visit before it is undertaken. These questions are important for everyone involved in the trip: parents, children, helpers, teachers, leaders, head teachers and governors.
The 10 vital questions are:
- What are the main objectives of the visit?
- What is Plan B if the main objectives can't be achieved?
- What could go wrong? Does the risk assessment cover: The main activity , Plan B, Travel arrangements, Emergency procedures, Staff numbers, gender and skill mixes, Generic and site specific hazards and risks (including for Plan B), Variable hazards (including environmental and participants' personal abilities and the cut off points)
- What information will be provided for parents?
- What consents will be sought?
- What opportunities will parents have to ask questions? (including any arrangements for a parents' meeting)
- What assurances are there of the leader(s) competencies?
- What are the communication arrangements?
- What are the arrangements for supervision, both during activities and free time, is there a Code of Conduct?
- What are the arrangements for monitoring and reviewing the visit?
FSC Operational Code of Practice
The Field Studies Council has produced the following Operational Code of Practice for Field Safety. It provides a useful checklist and framework for teachers planning fieldtrips and activities outside the classroom.
Principle: The safety of our visitors, of our employees and other people in the immediate vicinity takes priority over all other activities.
Preventative action is the most important action. This must be based on the five principles of safe practice:
- Awareness of potential hazards
- Ability to dynamically assess risk
- Preventing access to hazardous situations for those ill equipped to cope
- Adequate supervision
- Knowledge of how to respond to an incident
- Before beginning an activity students must be made aware of the generic risks involved and their expected behaviour, and also any specific risks where management of the situation needs to be clarified at an early stage. Staff should have consulted the relevant site information cards and visited the site prior to working there with groups
- Before beginning a specific task or facing a specific risk students must be made aware of, or reminded of, the significant risks and their expected behaviour
- During tasks and activities tutors must take reasonable measures, including working with any accompanying staff, to ensure that students' behaviour is appropriate and that the whereabouts of all members of the group are accounted for through head counts prior to leaving any site and/or when the group is gathered together after the potential for them to have become separated
- Whilst leading a group the tutor must be alert to the possibilities of unforeseen hazards and the need for these risks to be managed appropriately
- The tutor must be aware of their responsibility to amend or, in extreme cases, cancel activities or tasks if they feel risk of a serious accident or incident occurring is significant
Generic hazards relating to activities in the field
- Group behaviour - The largest contributing factor is the students themselves. The tutor should be alert to the behaviour of the students and their responses to risks and instructions regarding safety. If necessary, activities or tasks must be amended or, in extreme cases, cancelled if the tutor feels there is significant risk of a serious accident or incident occurring
- Weather - Extreme weather of all types can present an additional hazard to field safety. Activities should be amended or even cancelled if extreme weather is forecast. (Tutors should ensure they are aware of any extreme weather which is forecast during activities they are leading.) Local weather conditions may also be such that an activity is amended or even abandoned based on the tutor's judgement of the risk of a serious accident or incident occurring. When using coastal, fluvial or wooded sites special care needs to be taken during or after extreme weather
- Group preparedness - The quality of clothing and footwear of the group, their previous experience and state of health will all be contributing factors in deciding whether an activity should be amended or even cancelled. Tutors should check via medical forms, accompanying staff or the students themselves for any medical conditions and be aware of the Health and Safety implications of the declared conditions. Tutors should ensure that students are appropriately equipped and prepared for the activity
- Support resources - The presence of good support resources should not in any way encourage the tutor to undertake activities with the group that otherwise may not have been undertaken. The lack of normal support resources should mean that a tutor errs on the side of caution when deciding whether an activity should be amended or even abandoned
- Activity or task - Some activities, or tasks during an activity, may result in exposure to hazards. Tutors should be aware of the changing risks associated with these activities or tasks and how these risks may be affected by other contributory factors. Activities involving swimming or small boats and those classified as ‘adventurous' are deemed to be of higher risk and are covered by specific Operational Codes of Practice and Adventure Activities Licensing Authority (AALA) regulations which the tutor must fully understand and comply with before these activities are undertaken
- The Site - Some sites are more hazardous than others. Any site being used for activities or tasks should be risk assessed by a competent person prior to the group visiting the site. A tutor using the site should be aware of any significant risks (including diseases) and their management. Risk Assessments of sites should be documented for future use. The tutor should also be alert to unforeseen risks and be prepared to amend or, in extreme cases, abandon their activity or tasks. Marine and estuarine sites have specific hazards and risks due to their tidal nature
Support Resources that should be integrated into Risk Management
- Access to appropriate first aid and safety equipment - This must be available to tutors leading a group and should normally be contained in a safety rucksack carried with the group or be available within a few minutes of an incident. Accompanying staff and students should be made aware of the first aid arrangements for activities and tasks at appropriate times
- Support staff - Support staff (including accompanying staff or helpers) should be available to ensure an activity can be undertaken safely. Any support staff should be briefed to ensure they are aware of their role before the start of the activity
- Communication systems - An appropriate communication system must be in place for the activity being undertaken. A reliable back-up system should be put in place in the event of failure of other systems and the tutor should know how to use this
- Back-up Resources - A member of staff should be available for contact at the Centre or other pre-arranged location or telephone number when a tutor is leading a group in the field in order to provide assistance or advice to the group if necessary. If this person is not contactable or the situation is serious then help should be obtained direct from the emergency services
Download the FSC Operational code of Practice for Field Safety (PDF).
Find out what you could include in a fieldwork first aid kit (PDF) and rucksack (PDF).