Safety in the Field

Research in many fields such as wildlife and marine ecology, geology, etc. involve field work. Field work presents its own unique set of safety challenges. If you are going to work in the field then the following are important safety considerations.

Good Physical Health

You should be in good physical health and able to undertake strenuous physical activity. Many field sites are remote. Access often requires hiking over rugged terrain or even rock climbing. The field station itself may be primitive. Your studies may require that you sleep in a tent and cook outdoors over an open flame. You may need to operate heavy equipment such as a chain saw. Outdoor weather is always a consideration – particularly in terms of extremes of temperature. Your work may be abroad and require that you receive immunization for potentially serious illness such as communicable disease beforehand. If you have allergies or serious medical conditions such as diabetes it is important that you bring an adequate supply of your medications with you.


You should make sure that you have received the appropriate training for the environment in which you will do field work. Your work may require you to mount a safety ladder and work at elevated heights, use climbing equipment, swim, dive, fly (small planes, helicopters), operate a boat (requires a valid license), work in chest waders, know wilderness first aid/CPR, be able to use survival skills, operate a GPS, handle wild animals, and/or toxic materials (radioactivity, biohazards, chemical hazards, compressed gases).

Advance Planning

If you are involved in international research, it is important to obtain your passport and visas in order well in advance. Make sure that you have health insurance coverage. Obtain any recommended vaccinations and make sure that you are aware of any health concerns and what food is safe to eat in the country and region of the country in which you will be working. Check with the State Department so you know if there are any travel warnings or restrictions.

You need to know and understand the potential hazards presented by the area in which you will do field work. For example, there may be predatory animals (e.g., bears), venomous amphibians, or toxic plants. The dangers may also be human as the area in which you work may be an area in which there has been past/present civil or political unrest. You should make sure that you know what the precautions are for each potentially hazardous situation and that you have received the training to handle these situations. Accidents are always possible when working outdoors – cuts, sprains, falls, insect bites, sunburn, and dehydration are not uncommon. Consequently it is vital that you follow the direction of your supervisor in the field at all times. Do not engage in horseplay.