Safety Issues for Field Supervisors


The field supervisor bears the same responsibilities as a field worker. In addition, the field supervisor is responsible for safety planning in advance of field research, as well as implementation of safety protocols on-site. At all times, the field supervisor must exercise good judgment and take all reasonable care to protect the personal health and safety of participating team members. A field supervisor must assess the risk, as far as possible, which may vary in accordance with weather, project activities, and the experience, age, fitness and other characteristics of the persons involved in the field research.


A field supervisor is expected to have all of the suitable technical training for doing field research. In addition, some safety training is required. As a minimum, Red Cross first aid training is recommended for all field supervisors. Additional safety training, such as river rescue, may be needed depending on the field research. The following factors should be considered in development of a Safety Plan for each project.

  • Scheduling: To the extent possible, field research should be planned in advance. The principal investigator should know when a group is doing field research. If the principal investigator is away, then the department staff should be advised of pending field research.
  • Protective clothing and equipment: A properly equipped first aid kit, a mobile telephone, and extra water are required on all field excursions. In addition, university policy requires attention to protective clothing and equipment. Details are provided in the UC Davis Policy & Procedure Manual Section 290-50.
  • Weather: The typical weather for the season of the field research should be assessed and reported to field workers. If weather conditions are bad, be prepared to cancel or modify part or all of the field trip as necessary for safety.
  • Phone numbers: The home phone number of all field workers and the supervisor, as well as phone numbers of emergency contacts, should be included in the Safety Plan maintained by the field supervisor. The home and work phone numbers of the principal investigator and department chair should be obtained and used in case of emergency.
  • Medical facilities: The telephone number, location and directions to a medical facility in the vicinity of the field site should be written into the Safety Plan maintained by the field supervisor.
  • Vehicles: Most fatal field research accidents are related to vehicle travel. All state and local laws, rules and regulations must be followed. Defensive driving should be practiced. Drivers should switch at the first sign of fatigue, or, if alone, should stop when too tired to continue safely. University vehicles must not be used for personal or recreational purposes.
  • Land access: Permission should be sought for entry onto private land and clearly no damage should take place. Attention should be paid to local warnings, no trespassing signs and danger signs.

Conduct during field research

The field supervisor must ensure implementation of the controls and safety procedures established by the principal investigator, ensure that the team members use the appropriate safety equipment and follow appropriate safety procedures and medical precautions, conduct ongoing risk assessments during the field research and report any new hazards to the principal investigator, deal with and resolve any safety concerns which arise in the field, and maintain regular contact with the principal investigator and/or departmental contact wherever/whenever possible.

Post-trip evaluations

After field work is completed and a trip ends, the field supervisor should inform the principal investigator in a timely fashion of all substantive incidents that occurred in the field. Using hindsight, the field supervisor should revisit the Safety Plan for the project and amend it as needed to enhance safety.