Fieldwork and Outdoor Education (OBUHSN-24)


This Health and Safety Notice must be read and understood by all employees of Oxford Brookes University likely to be involved in fieldwork and outdoor education. Where applicable it should also be read and understood by all members of the student body.

Definition of fieldwork

Fieldwork is defined as any practical work carried out by staff or students of Oxford Brookes University for the purpose of teaching and/or research in places which are not under University control but where the University is responsible for the health and safety of its staff and/or students and others exposed to their activities.

This definition will therefore include activities as diverse as archaeological digs, social survey interview, visits to buildings/building sites as well as survey/collection work carried out by geologists and biologists.

Work placements, studying and similar activities controlled or jointly controlled with other employers are not covered by this document. Voluntary and leisure activities are also excluded. voluntary does not exclude persons who attend the fieldtrip "for interest" only. Reference should also be made to OBUHSN-38 if the activity is to take place overseas.

Legal requirements

Under the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 Sections 2 & 3 the University must exercise a duty of care to employees and to those they supervise. Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations a suitable and sufficient Risk Assessment (OBUHSN-36) must be undertaken of the risks to health and safety of employees and to the health and safety of persons not in University employment who may be affected by their acts or omissions.   

Risk assessment

Before a field trip commences a written risk assessment must be completed, guidance for which is outlined in OBUHSN-36. The objective of any risk assessment procedure is to identify the foreseeable hazards associated with the work and then to assess the actual risk that these hazards present under the particular circumstances. Following the exercise, it should be possible to identify areas of the work that present particular hazards and take action to eliminate or reduce them to an acceptable level. A list of potential hazards for field trips is given in Appendix 1, and risk assessment form for field trips in risk assessment form.

  • If Hazardous Substances are to be used, a COSHH assessment must be undertaken and included as part of the general risk assessment. Information about COSHH assessments can be found in OBUHSN-19.
  • A copy of the risk assessment must be sent to the University Safety Officer at least two weeks in advance of the fieldwork commencing.
  • An example fieldwork risk assessment form is included as risk assessment form. Faculties/Directorates may produce their own risk assessments forms but they must contain the information given in Appendix 2 and must also be approved by the Safety Officer.
  • Work placements are covered by the Health and Safety Notice OBUHSN-39.

Deans of Faculties & Directors of Directorates responsibilities’

It is the Dean of Faculties / Director of Directorate’s responsibility to ensure that the risk assessment of the fieldwork is completed and to ensure that a safe system of work has been established for all staff and students. Normally the Dean of Faculty/Director of Directorate will delegate this duty to the member of staff organising the field trip. If such delegation occurs then the Dean of Faculty / Director of Directorate must be satisfied that the organiser is competent to lead, and has sufficient awareness of the legal obligations to those under their supervision. The Dean of Faculty / Director of Directorate must ensure that the organisation of the fieldwork meets the Faculty/Directorate safety criteria, and that any accidents that occur are reported and investigated in accordance with Accident/Incident Reporting OBUHSN-11.

  • Staff and students undertaking fieldwork should be fully informed of the nature of the work and associated hazards. This will serve as the first stage in health surveillance as some staff and students may be unable to carry out certain types of fieldwork because of physical or psychological problems. Participants should be asked to make a declaration that they do not have any condition that could compromise their health and safety and that of others during the fieldwork. Despite every effort being made to include them, there may be certain circumstances where, after consultation with the Senior Occupational Health Advisor and/or Safety Officer, persons with certain disabilities or illnesses may have to be excluded from specific activities on health and safety grounds.
  • Following the risk assessment it may become clear that staff require training to undertake the fieldwork. The distinction between information and training is significant. For example, fieldwork involving mountain walking is potentially very dangerous for those not trained no matter how well informed they are.
  • Staff to student ratios will depend on the activity that is being undertaken. The minimum recommended staff to student ratio is 1:10 (from the UCEA code of practice). Risk assessment will identify activities, locations etc, which may require a higher staff to student ratio.

Staff and students responsibilities

Under the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 Section 7 employees must take reasonable care of their own health and safety and that of those who might be affected by their acts or omissions and to co-operate with Oxford Brookes University with regard to health and safety arrangements.

Staff and students must not knowingly undertake activities that due to physical or psychological problems may put themselves or others at risk.


Staff working on a field trip as part of their duties are automatically covered for employer's liability and public liability by the University's insurers.

The University insures students for their potential legal liabilities on official course-related activities.

Insurance Statement

"The University's public liability cover will extend to cover any student at the request of the University against legal liability in respect of which the University would have been entitled to cover if the claim had been made against the University". 

Students participating in field courses as part of their studies also benefit from personal accident insurance against death and permanent disability.  Further details can be found on the Insurance intranet pages

Staff and Students attending a fieldtrip must be informed of their insurance cover through the University and should be advised to take out additional personal insurance if necessary. It is recommended that students take out travel insurance for overseas field trips

The Finance and Legal Services Directorate at Oxford Brookes University has responsibility for dealing with insurance matters. The person to contact for further advice is Louisa Berry, Risk and Resilience Manager, email:, telephone: 07831 990509.

The University's travel insurance arrangements include pre- travel advice and a security and incident management support service. See the Travel Insurance section on the Brookes intranet for more details.

Transport (land, water and air)

Control of transport hazards is an integral part of the risk assessment and must include vehicle suitability, prevention of driver fatigue and provision of adequate rest periods. Drivers must be in a fit physical state and possess appropriate licences. Additional training, etc, e.g. Minibus Drivers OBUHSN-27 must be undertaken.

The minibus/coach used for fieldwork will have seat belts fitted. It will be the responsibility of the person leading the fieldwork to ensure that all staff, students and others wear the seat belts.

If any other forms of transport are to be used during the fieldtrip, appropriate measures must be taken to ensure that all health and safety aspects of the travel are adequate.

For those travelling overseas, please refer to OBUHSN-38 for additional advice on health and safety while abroad.

Protective clothing

Adequate and appropriate clothing must be worn/taken by all participants to suit the conditions that are likely to be met. This will be identified by the risk assessment.

Depending on the conditions, protective equipment may be required e.g. hard-hat, ear defenders etc. Protective equipment must be inspected regularly, maintained in good condition and worn correctly as required by current legislation. Equipment complying with appropriate British, European and International standards should be used. After use, protective clothing must be stored, repaired, decontaminated or disposed of safely as appropriate. Further information on protective equipment can be found in OBUHSN-21.

Health and first aid

Organisers of fieldwork expeditions and outdoor activities must give careful consideration to the health of participants and, where necessary, the advice of the Senior Occupational Health Advisor should be sought. As part of the risk assessment, participants should be asked to make a declaration that they do not knowingly have a condition that could compromise their health and safety during the particular activities likely to take place during the trip. There may be some circumstances where, after consultation with the Senior Occupational Health Advisor/Safety Officer, persons with particular disabilities or conditions may have to be excluded from certain activities on health and safety grounds.

A first-aid kit must be taken on every field trip. The Senior Occupational Health Advisor must be consulted on the composition and number of kit(s) that should be appropriate for the nature of the work.

A field first-aid kit must be available to all groups working away from the field base control point.

Following the risk assessment, the need for health surveillance and/or immunisation must be considered. Advice should be sought from the Senior Occupational Health Advisor.

Staff and students must receive adequate instructions from a competent person on the likely hazards associated with the work. This will probably be the leader of the fieldtrip.

Prompt medical attention must be sought in the event of an illness. Under field conditions, relatively trivial injuries may become serious if not treated quickly and expedition leaders should be alert for signs of illness, injury or fatigue in the party. The expedition leader should know where the nearest health care facilities are. If access to normal means of communication is not available then the expedition leader must have access to an alternative means of communication.

As part of the risk assessment, there should be adequate medical insurance and for visits within the European Union, fieldworkers should carry a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), available online at  or by phoning 0845 606 2030.

For visits outside the European Community it is strongly recommended that the advice of the Senior Occupational Health Advisor be sought.

Depending on the risk assessment, the number of qualified first-aiders on the trip will need to be established. As a guide, at least one member of staff attending an out of town field trip must, as a minimum standard, hold an HSE approved First-Aid at Work certificate and have authorisation from Oxford Brookes University to administer first-aid.

Other staff and students on the field trip should have an elementary knowledge of first-aid, e.g. Appointed Persons as defined by the First Aid at Work Regulations

Accident and emergency procedures

For each group, the expedition leader will be responsible for organising emergency procedures and ensuring that all members of the group are aware of the arrangements. If an accident does occur, there should be a clear plan of action to deal with the situation and the following points must be borne in mind

  • ensure that one accident does not produce more, withdraw the remainder of the team to a safe place as conditions may be dangerous or deteriorate
  • attend to the injured person(s), keeping only the minimum number of persons to assist as necessary
  • send for help if the injuries are serious and ensure that the emergency services are given the exact location (e.g. by Ordnance Survey map reference)
  • warn others of dangers, if these exist (e.g. falling rocks)
  • as soon as practicable, report the accident either by telephone and/or the procedures laid down in Accident/Incident Reporting Safety Notice, OBUHSN-11
  • do not discuss the situation with anyone other than the emergency services and Oxford Brookes University officials. Further advice should be sought from the University Public Relations Team.

Disabled persons

Every effort should be made to ensure that disabled persons have access to fieldwork activities and are able to participate fully in them. This may include special safety arrangements that should be identified during the risk assessment.

Further guidelines

When organising and planning field trips, the following guidance should be referred to
  • Guidance on Safety in Fieldwork, published by The University Safety and Health Association, This publication is available from Universities and Colleges Employers Association, Woburn House, 20 Tavistock Square, London WC1H 9HU or may be downloaded from the UCEA website. A copy is also available in the University Safety Office.

When organising and planning field trips which occur outside the United Kingdom and, in which the activity involves an accepted element of risk, challenge or adventure, such as mountaineering, pot holing, canoeing etc the following guidance standard should be referred to

  • British Standard 8848, Specification for the provision of visits, fieldwork, expeditions and adventurous activities, outside the United Kingdom. This publication is available online in the Databases section of Oxford Brookes University Library on line. A copy is also available in the University Safety Office.

The guidance and standards referred to above do not form part of UK law. However if a legal dispute with the University is undertaken in relation to a field trip, reference may be made to these standards to judge whether the University has behaved in accordance with good practice.

Issue date: 4 April 2009