Field Research Training

Road to Mountain Vista Mentoring is essential to transfer knowledge and practical skills from experienced faculty, staff and researchers to new researchers and students, and is often provided informally. However, documented training is a critical part of our University safety programs in order to comply with regulatory requirements, accrediting agencies, and in many situations, funding organizations. Commercial trainers typically provide documentation via a certification that an individual should maintain and be able to provide upon request, e.g. a first aid card; UC-sponsored safety training is typically documented centrally on campus, such as through the UCLA Worksafe. Research groups or field course instructors can integrate training on safe practices into lab meetings, hands-on demonstrations, or field lectures, and document completion via a simple sign-in form.  It also is appropriate to list required training as prerequisites in a Field Safety Plan that is reviewed and signed by all participants.

Field-related training typically falls into two categories: 

  1. Skill training required for the site you will be visiting and working, and
  2. Specialized training around the tasks you will be performing while working in the field.  

First aid training is appropriate for working off campus and at remote field sites because emergency medical services may be limited or delayed. Additionally, Cal/OSHA (Title 8 §3400. Medical Services and First Aid) requires first aid supplies and persons trained to render first aid “in the absence of an infirmary, clinic, or hospital, in near proximity to the workplace.” CPR/AED training is also recommended and offered on most campuses.  

Wilderness first aid training is appropriate for outdoor fieldwork or visiting remote sites because it covers more first responder information and relevant scenarios than typical 4 hour community first aid classes. There is no adequate substitute for getting this training. The largest wilderness first aid training provider in the U.S. is the Wilderness Medicine Institute (www.wildmed.com), which is part of the National Outdoor Leadership School (www.NOLS.com). The 2-day Wilderness First Aid (WFA) course and 10-day Wilderness First Responder (WFR) course are both taught at numerous UC campuses. Other training providers within California include Sierra Rescue and Foster Calm. For trip leaders, field scientists, or students that plan to pursue a career doing outdoor work, WFR training is highly regarded professionally and will prepare individuals to manage a broad range of emergency situations, illnesses, and injuries.

Facilitating field research or teaching field classes can require leadership skills that go beyond the expectations of a lab instructor or classroom teacher. The attempt of this web-page is to provide a comprehensive resource for helping instructors learn more of these skills. Many other organizations, both on and off campus, offer much more in-depth training. For example, UCLA Rec hosts NOLS each spring where a WFR class is put on right here on campus. Find available classes at www.nols.com. An excellent written resource, also from NOLS, is the Leadership Educator Notebook, which can be ordered from the same website. Field Safety in Uncontrolled Environments (published by the American Association of Petroleum Geologists) also provides excellent guidance on planning and leading field excursions and was the model for the Field Safety Plan template.

Working in the field can require knowledge of many outdoor skills, such as map-reading, compass use, cross country navigation, camping, cooking over a fire or with a camp stove, field sanitation practices, and treating drinking water. Campus outdoor recreation programs may be able to help provide additional training in these skills or provide referrals, e.g. outdoor skills workshops offered by UCLA Recreation.

Many field sites are fragile and can easily be damaged by even light use. It’s important, whenever possible, to adopt field practices that minimize lasting negative impacts. The national educational program called Leave No Trace (www.lnt.org) has developed a set of principles that can be generally applied when working in wilderness conditions. More guidelines are available for specific habitats (e.g. river, deserts, etc.) and areas outside the United States on the LNT website, and describe how to adhere to the following seven LNT principles:

  • Plan Ahead and Prepare
  • Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  • Dispose of Waste Properly
  • Leave What You Find
  • Minimize Campfire Impacts
  • Respect Wildlife
  • Be Considerate of Other Visitors

Falls from height are consistently among the top causes of work-related fatalities in the U.S. Climbing trees, towers, or other structures; using ladders or lifts like “cherry pickers”; or other work at height or near edges or cliffs all warrant careful review of equipment and safe practices. Contact EH&S’s General & Occupational Safety Department (https://ehs.ucla.edu/eosp/general-occupational-safety ) to obtain appropriate fall protection, ladder safety, or equipment training or information. Full-body harnesses, helmets, and other safety gear must also properly fit, be inspected before each use, and properly used to avoid injuries and ensure compliance with Cal/OSHA regulations.

Please note: seat harnesses commonly used for sport rock climbing with dynamic (elastic) rope are not acceptable for working at heights because of the potential to be suspended upside down and because they are not designed to absorb shock after a fall as full-body harnesses used in conjunction with shock absorbing fall arrest systems are designed to do. Compliant full body harnesses have a dorsal D-ring to attach fall arrest systems and/or to be used during rescue.

Consult with EH&S’s General & Occupational Safety Department prior to using powered tools or equipment (including ATVs and snowmobiles). Follow manufacturer’s instructions and keep a manual accessible. Prerequisites and safe work practices for use of powered tools or equipment should be documented in your Field Safety Plan; in some situations referring to manufacturer’s recommendations and/or a Job Hazard Analysis (JHA). A Job Hazard Analysis (sometimes referred to as a JSA or Job Safety Analysis) is the breaking down of a job into its component steps and then evaluating each step, looking for hazards.

Hazards related to excavating or trenching include:

  • Physical hazards from use of digging equipment or being trapped/buried by collapsing soil;
  • Respiratory hazards caused by disturbing soil that contains
    • Coccidioides fungi (which causes Valley Fever)
    • Silica exposure from dust plumes or other environmental contaminants
  • Trips/falls if the edge is not clearly flagged or protected. Excavations requirements are outlined by Cal/OSHA and once excavations are 5 feet, they trigger additional Cal/ OSHA regulatory requirements for evaluation and shoring. Consult with EH&S’s General & Occupational Safety Department office for guidance and to establish safe work practices.

Hazards related to entering confined spaces include:

  • Physical hazards from unstable structural integrity, low overhead clearance,
  • Respiratory hazards from unsafe environmental conditions, such as hydrogen sulfide gas or lack of oxygen,
  • Increased risk due to access limitations, unreliable communications, and isolated, often dark and rugged/ uneven conditions. 

 

Consult with EH&S’s General & Occupational Safety Department for confined space entry training information and to establish safe work practices. It is a standard precaution for workers to wear a hardhat, headlamp, and carry a 4-gas meter (that measures hydrogen sulfide, combustible gas, carbon monoxide, and oxygen levels simultaneously) to verify safe conditions and adequate oxygen levels prior to entry. A rescue plan may also be required prior to entry.

Wildlife biologists face environmental hazards in the field, as well as risk of zoonotic and vector-borne diseases and the physical threat of a wildlife attack or bite. During required institutional review of animal protocols, best practices for trapping or darting of wildlife should be adopted, but broader field hazards should not be ignored. As with all fieldwork, working alone, extreme weather conditions, unreliable communications, and limited or delayed emergency medical services may exacerbate any research-related incidents. It is standard precaution for gloves to be worn when handling any wildlife, and additional controls are warranted for species that transmit life-threatening diseases, e.g. wearing a respirator for handling deer mice (hantavirus), or getting a rabies vaccination for handling bats or other carriers. Animal procedures require hands-on demonstration and training; consult either the IBC or EHS’s Biosafety Officer for guidance and never perform work that is not specifically approved in your Animal Use Protocol.