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Playing It Safe: Recognizing and Managing Risk When Working With Students in the Field

Barbara Tewksbury and David Tewksbury, Hamilton College

Here is a crucial litmus test that you can perform the next time you head out into the field with the sons and daughters of many families. Ask yourself, "Would I want my son or daughter on a field trip that is run the way I run my trips??" If yes, great! If not, hmmmm...
Photo by Rebecca Teed at Rocky Mountain National Park during a field excursion at the 2003 DLESE Annual Meeting.

Many incidents that happen in the field can be prevented or mitigated with some forethought. Some field trip leaders exercise little systematic effort to reduce risk in the field and to be prepared for emergencies. But jumping into the vans without leaving itinerary or contact information behind or traveling without emergency medical information on students and leaders can put field parties in physical jeopardy as well as putting faculty and departments at risk of significant liability consequences if anything does go wrong.

When we presented information on Hamilton College's field safety policies as a poster at the 2004 Geological Society of America Annual Meeting (Tewksbury and Tewksbury, 2004), we were surprised by the number of faculty from departments that have no such policies. But many are beginning to think through the issues, prodded largely by college and university insurance carriers and campus safety officers.

Development of department policies and procedures for field safety can have two consequences. 1) By discussing the various aspects of risk, faculty become more aware of where the risks lie and how to cope with them. 2) By establishing policies, departments can insure that both students and faculty follow through on intentions to manage risk in the field.

This site outlines information about safety and risk issues for faculty and departments to consider as they continue the great geology tradition of taking students into the field. Be sure to check out the Field Safety Resources page for links to example forms and standard operating procedures as well as references for additional reading on Field Safety.


Continue on to Being Prepared for Emergencies



This field trip safety information is intended as suggestions and is for informational purposes only. Each individual should develop a safety plan in accordance with the rules and regulations of their particular institution or organization. This information is not intended to be, nor should it be considered comprehensive or applicable to any and all situations and conditions.