Barcelona Field Studies Centre

Geological Fieldwork Risk Assessments

Geological fieldwork involves some level of risk, which can be reduced by awareness of hazards, experience and appropriate safety precautions. Group leaders undertaking field work must assess the risks and these will vary in accordance with weather and site conditions on the day and the experience, age, fitness and other characteristics of the students. Group leaders should take appropriate safety precautions, and in bad conditions be prepared to cancel part or all of the field trip if necessary.

Appropriate safety and first-aid equipment must be taken, and mobile phones should be available. Permission should be held for entry into private land and no damage should take place. Attention should be paid to weather warnings, local warnings and danger signs.

A Generic Code for Geological Fieldwork

1. Carry out regular headcounts of pupils on the trip.
2. Ensure students are within sight at all times.
3. Carry a list of all the adults and pupils on the trip.
4. Obey the Country Code and observe local byelaws. Remember to shut gates and leave no litter.
5. Always seek permission before entering onto private land.
6. Don't interfere with machinery.
7. Don't litter fields or roads with rock fragments that could cause injury to livestock or be a hazard to vehicles or pedestrians.
8. Avoid undue disturbance to wildlife. Plants and animals may inadvertently be displaced or destroyed by careless actions.
9. On coastal sections, whenever possible consult local experts about tides or hazards such as unstable cliffs.
10. When working in mountains or remote areas, follow the advice given in the Ramblers' Association factsheet 'Leading walks in remote areas' and in particular inform someone of your intended route.
11. Don't take risks on insecure cliffs or rock faces. Take care not to dislodge rock: others may be below.
12. Be considerate. Don't leave an exposure unsightly or dangerous for those who come after you.

Generic Risk Assessment Index

Cliff faces

1. Cliffs are inherently unstable but cliff falls occur far more frequently in frosty conditions and after prolonged or heavy rain.
2. Suitable helmets must be worn at all times.
3. Minimise time at the foot of cliffs.
4. Avoid any specific parts where there are signs of recent falls.
5. Never shelter under overhangs from rain.
6. In fog it is important to keep clear of the cliff edge and keep to well-defined footpaths.
7. Students should not climb the cliff.
8. Take care near cliff edges which can often overhang, and particularly in strong or gusting winds.

See loose rocks.

Coastal locations

1. Dangers of being cut off by a rising tide.
2. Danger of being swept off ledges by the waves.
3. A risk of falling backwards on slippery seaweed-covered rocks at low tide.

Precautions: Assess the sea conditions. Do not go down to low ledges near the sea in stormy weather. Trapping by tides is not common in the Mediterranean because of a very limited tidal range. Check tides when going to critical areas (see Barcelona Tide Tables).

See slips and falls on algal-covered rocks and loose rocks.

Hammering

1. Students should be encouraged to observe and record and not to hammer indiscriminately.
2. Keep collecting to an absolute minimum. Avoid removing in situ fossils, rocks or minerals.
3. Never collect from walls or buildings. Take care not to undermine fences, walls, bridges or other structures.
4. Students should wear appropriate clothing including safety goggles when hammering rocks.
5. Flint nodules must not be hammered under any circumstances because of high-velocity splinters.
6. Do not hammer near other people or work directly above or below other people.
7. Do not use a hammer on a hammer (it is hardened and can splinter).
8. Avoid hammering at an overhanging cliff or other dangerous location.

Hypothermia

This is usually a problem on mountains or moorlands. It can happen, even in Spain, if a field trip continues in persistent wet weather. It could also happen from someone falling into the sea or a lake or river or by being injured and soaked in water.

Precautions: Check the weather forecast and do not persist in heavy rain or very cold weather. Insist that warm and waterproof clothing and suitable footwear be taken by all participants.

Illness of Participant in the Field

Ask students to notify the group leader of any relevant medical problems. People with difficulties are more likely to be at the rear of a large party and a staff member should be watching for problems at the tail end.

Loose Rocks

Displacement of loose rocks by a person on a slope is very common if several people go up a loose rocky slope or scree in a long trail. Avoid by going together in a small close group, keeping lower people out of the line of fire, or by ascending loose rock very obliquely.

Mines and caves

Please keep out of mines and caves when doing geological fieldwork.

Quarries

Quarries take groups entirely at the visitors' risk and will not accept any responsibility whatsoever for accidents. Quarries may insist that the visitors present an appropriate insurance certificate. Dangers exist from stone falls, stone chips, moving vehicles, unroped loads and site plant.

1. Obtain prior permission to visit.
2. Leaders should have familiarised themselves with the current state of the quarry. They should have consulted the Manager as to where visitors may go and what local hazards are to be avoided.
3. On every visit, both your arrival and departure must be reported.
4. Safety hats are obligatory, stout boots are strongly recommended.
5. Keep away from vehicles and machinery.
6. Be sure that blast warning procedures are understood.
7. Beware of rock falls. Quarry faces may be highly dangerous and liable to collapse without warning.
8. Beware of sludge lagoons.

River locations

1. In exceptional weather conditions normally dry rivers may become dangerous because of flash floods.
2. The Meteorological Office of Catalonia severe weather reports should be checked before working at dry river sites (rieras).
3. A risk of falling on algal-covered rocks.

See slips and falls on algal-covered rocks (below).

Slips and Falls on Algal-covered Rocks

This is very common on rocks and ledges at low tide or working in river locations. Select routes carefully, step between rocks or step carefully only onto horizontal surfaces. Students should wear safety helmets (particularly for head protection in forward falls), and ideally a rucksack which gives some back protection and long trousers for knee protection. Heavy clothing and gloves in winter reduce cuts and bruises.

Wild life

There hasn't been a case of rabies among terrestrial mammals in mainland Spain since 1977, though there are occasionally cases among bats. Feral dogs roaming the Spanish countryside present a small risk in more remote areas, and a stick is an effective deterrent.

The snub-nosed or Lataste's viper is not common. It takes it's name from the prominent horn between its eyes. It is grey, short (around 50cm) and is distinguished by its triangular head and the zigzag pattern on its back. It lives in dry, rocky areas, away from human habitation.

If you are bitten by a snake, remain calm and seek medical attention immediately. Bites only occur in the spring and summer as snakes hibernate. Of the estimated 50 snakebite deaths a year in Europe, only 3-6 occur in Spain.

The commonest scorpion in Spain is the Mediterranean scorpion which can give you an extremely nasty sting. Boots and thick socks are recommended for working in dry rocky areas.

The hairy caterpillars of the pine processionary moth can cause an extremely nasty allergic skin reaction if touched. They live in easily identifiable silvery nests in pine trees throughout Mediterranean Spain and get their name from their habit of forming head-to-tail trails as they move across land.

Mosquitoes are locally a problem, though they are no longer malarial. Tiger mosquitoes are now common in Barcelona, are extremely aggressive, attack by day and live in gardens where they breed in stagnant pools of water.


See also: Student Fieldwork Code of Conduct