- First aid training - Current Red Cross certification in first aid and CPR is helpful for both faculty and assistant instructors who are helping with field labs. Red Cross offers a variety of courses in most communities and so do local safety councils, hospitals and other organizations. Also, check with your campus' student outings club, or equivalent. Frequently such organizations arrange for first aid training for their leaders, and such training may focus more specifically than the Red Cross program on problems likely to be encountered in a geoscience field lab setting. Camping equipment outfitters in your area may also offer training focused on outdoor situations. It is also possible to hire a certified first aid instructor to train all faculty and assistants simultaneously, with a program crafted to your needs. The key is to make sure that your knowledge and skills are current; however, in case of an accident, a current Red Cross card or proof of recent completed training may also be particularly helpful. You may also want to find out from your students who has current first-aid certification and encourage others to seek it.
- First aid kits - Pre-packaged first-aid kits are readily available. You can also buy supplies in bulk and assemble your own kits. We've found that plastic fishing tackle boxes (the ones that open on both sides) make particularly good first-aid kits. Check with the local Red Cross, your campus health service, and local physicians to determine what materials the first aid kit should contain. First aid kits of the fishing-tackle-box size should travel in each vehicle. If you will be working far away from the vehicles, you may also want to assemble smaller first-aid kits for each student or student group (or have them buy/make their own). Here, the key is to include only the bare essentials and make the kits very lightweight. Students will balk at adding weight to their backpacks and they may leave heavy items (and sometimes the whole backpack) at the base of slopes or at trail junctures. First aid materials do no good if they are far away from the scene of the accident.
- Eye protection - Three circumstances when eye protection (heavy plastic lenses like the chemists use) is helpful in geoscience field lab situations are: when there's a chance of blowing sand and gravel; when heavy use of rock hammers is anticipated; and when there's follow-up lab work involving chemicals. For the field situations, small swimming goggles may work well. They are compact, inexpensive and handy - but they don't meet the same safety standards for lab work as the chemistry eye-protection equipment. We recommend that students wear eyeglasses (rather than contact lenses) when they go to gravel pits, sand dunes, and other sites where blowing sand is anticipated.
- Hard Hats - Hard hats are helpful for labs working near the base of rock outcrops and for roadcut situations where students may be moving around above and below each other. On windy days, the hard hats themselves may become projectiles and the problems may outweigh the benefits. Many mines and gravel pit operators insist that students wear hard hats when visiting their operations. Some of these places will have their own hard hats; others will require that you supply your own. Hard hats (along with personal eye protection) also have a (positive) psychological effect on student behavior - they are more likely to take safety instructions seriously and the hard hat imputes a measure of professionalism to the fieldwork. It's important to remind students to avoid climbing above each other and to shout a warning to others in the area if they dislodge rocks, gravels, snow, hard hats, etc.
- Safe use of hammers - It's a good idea to instruct introductory geoscience students to use only the hammer end of the hammer for striking (not the pick or chisel end, which should be used only for prying) to minimize the chances of flying chips ending up in eyes and faces. Also, students should not hammer in a crowd and should warn folks nearby before they start hammering away on the outcrop. Some outcrops should not be hammered on (those in state parks, unique features such as Van Hise Rock near Baraboo, WI etc.). Students will follow the lead of their instructors and lab assistants, so if you want them to look first and hammer later, model this behavior.
- Communication - radios and cell phones - In remote areas, and even for routine communication between vehicles or field partners, it's helpful to carry communication devices such as two-way radios (check the range and the number of channels and carry extra batteries) and cell phones (check coverage in the area you're planning to work in and carry extra batteries).
- Things that bite and sting - As you proceed through first-aid training and assembling a first-aid kit, ask for professional advice about what you might need to carry for allergic reactions. Students with allergies to stinging insects should carry a syringe kit with epinephrine.
Remind students to carry insect repellent (or bring some for the whole group). With the spread of West Nile virus across most of the lower 48 states, it's best to try to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes in the first place.
In many parts of the country, ticks carry disease, so you'll want to help your students recognize ticks, learn how to remove them safely, and learn to recognize the initial symptoms of Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses.
Students should also be made aware of the poisonous spiders, snakes, scorpions and other creatures they may encounter in the field and how to avoid bites and stings. In general, the first priority should be to get the person with the bite to a hospital. "The best first-aid for a rattlesnake bite is a set of car keys."
In a somewhat different category, students should also know that if they encounter inquisitive cattle they should stay clear of the bull. Territorial dogs can also be particularly challenging; students should attempt to find the owner.
For Further Reading
- Safety in the Field from the National Association of Geoscience Teachers (NAGT)
- The Research Outdoorsmanship Homepage ( This site may be offline. ) has a great deal of advice about staying safe in the field, particularly when a trip or lab involves hiking well away from the road.
- At least two national geological societies, the Geological Society of Canada (along with the Mineralogical Society of Canada) and the New Zealand Geological Society have published safety guidelines for geology field trip leaders that may also be helpful for instructors of field labs. Follow this link to the Canadian guidelines.