Safety Guidelines for Field Research
Volunteer safety is the top priority for community based environmental
monitoring and improvement groups. Safety is important when traveling
to and from the site, at the river's edge and during testing.
The following guidelines have been developed and tested by Waterwatch
Australia for use by group leaders, such as teachers, to ensure
the safety of volunteers. If monitoring requires putting a volunteer
at risk, do not attempt it.
Understand the risks
- Each volunteer should be requested to sign a liability release
form before monitoring.
- Teachers should follow standard school procedures, obtaining
from each student signed parental permission and a list of any
special needs or allergies that the student may have.
Choose safe sites
- Don't select sites exclusively from a map survey. Visit the
site beforehand to see if there are any hazards.
- Avoid sites where there are dogs, livestock, wasps, bees,
or prickly plants.
- Choose sites with safe and easy access to the waters edge.
Avoid sites with steep, slippery or unstable banks, or are adjacent
to deep, swiftly flowing water or strong surf.
- Be sure the site, such as urban storm water drains, creeks
or estuaries are not prone to rapid flood or tidewater rise without
- If a bridge is selected as a sampling site, be sure it has
a raised or otherwise protected walkway with a guard rail.
Wear appropriate clothing
- If its cold and could rain, advise that the volunteers wear
warm clothing, a raincoat and sturdy waterproof shoes. If its
sunny, ask the volunteers to wear a hat and apply sun screen.
If the site is heavily vegetated, recommend long pants, and a
long sleeved shirt to avoid scratches. Be sure the volunteers
wear something bright so that they can be easily seen.
- When conducting stream monitoring of macroinvertebrates, make
sure the volunteers wear waders, boots, or old sneakers with a
good grip. Do not allow anyone to go barefoot, as they may cut
their feet on sticks or broken glass.
- Bring extra clothes and a towel in case someone slips in and
Bring safety gear and a first aid kit
- Supply lifejackets to students or adult participants monitoring
from a boat.
- Rubber gloves are essential for anyone with an open sore or
bandaged wound. They should also be worn when handling chemicals
or polluted water.
- Group leaders should bring a fully stocked first aid kit to
the sampling site. Make sure antihistamines and a sterile saline
eyewash are included.
- Ideally, someone in the group should have formal training
in first aid.
Maintain contact with help
- Carry coins, phonecards or a mobile phone in case you need
to make an emergency call.
- If you have no access to a mobile phone, let every one know
where the nearest phone is located.
- In the event of a serious injury, do not hesitate to call
- In remote areas, carry a map, a compass, and a whistle and
let a responsible person know exactly where you will be sampling
and approximately how long you will be gone. Ask him or her to
take immediate action if you have not returned at the time you
Appoint a group leader
- Each monitoring group should appoint a group leader. This
person should take responsibility for safety advice, monitoring
procedures and group decision-making. The leader should be with
the group each time it goes out. On occasions when the leader
cannot be present a "Backup" who also has a good understanding
of the safety guidelines and monitoring procedures should be present.
- As soon as you arrive at the monitoring site and before you
begin monitoring, hold a quick meeting. This is the opportunity
for the leader to review the potential hazards of the site and
to assess the abilities of the group. Let the volunteers know
that it's OK to say "I can't do this." Check that the
group has the appropriate footwear, safety gear and monitoring
equipment before proceeding to the monitoring site.
- Horseplay at the monitoring site or in the laboratory can
lead to possible injury. Monitoring group leaders should emphasise
this safety aspect before each testing session.
Never sample alone
- When working in or around a body of water, never sample alone.
Work with at least two others and stay within calling distance
of the main group. If one is collecting a sweep sample along the
streams edge the other can hold and secure a safety line. If someone
is injured, one person can go for help and one can stay with the
injured person. Make sure everyone knows who they will be working
- Do not allow children to sample without adult supervision.
There should be at least one adult for every 8-10 children and
at least two adults per group. Schools should check their excursion
Never go into the water above your knees
- All sampling is done on the shore or from the water's edge
except for the fresh water macroinvertebrate tests which are conducted
in shallow riffles less than knee deep.
- When conducting the macroinvertebrate tests, use the handle
of your monitoring net to probe the water in front of you for
rocks or deep holes.
- Use a pole sampler to avoid getting too close to the waters
Avoid contact with polluted water
- Carry drinking water with you. Do not drink water from the
water source you are testing as it may contain sewage or chemicals.
In particular, when sampling in urban areas, do not put your hands
near your mouth, or eat or drink while testing the water.
- When collecting algae samples wear gloves as blue green algae
can cause skin and eye irritations in humans.
- Bring hand washing supplies, and make sure you use them after
monitoring. This is especially important if the field trip involves
a picnic lunch, barbecue or snack.
Take proper care when carrying out chemical tests
- Be sure to read through testing procedures and safety instructions
before conducting tests.
- Take care when handling chemicals. Always use the safety equipment
provided, eg. gloves to avoid potential risk.
- Always wear goggles or some other form of recommended protective
eyewear when using chemicals in the field or in the lab. Contact
lenses may be irritated by and absorb chemical fumes.
- Never taste chemicals for any reason.
- Always read the label before using a chemical and never assume
that you know the contents of an unmarked container.
- Label all containers with permanent markers.
- Do not dispose of used chemicals by dumping on the ground
or in the waterway! Bring a container with a tight fitting lid
so that wastes can be returned to a laboratory for proper disposal.
When testing for E. coli or faecal coliform
- Treat all bacterial cultures as pathogenic and therefore potentially
dangerous. Use gloves and forceps to avoid any possible contamination.
- Wash hands before and after carrying out the analysis.
- To dispose of cultures and resterilise plastic petri dishes:
a. Using tongs or wearing rubber gloves remove petri dish covers,
and then carefully place covers, dishes, and cultures into a large
beaker or pan containing undiluted, liquid household bleach.
b. After 10 minutes remove the petri dishes, and rinse them well
under running water. The wet pads and filter should be put in
plastic bags, the bag sealed and properly discarded.
- Carefully immerse the petri dishes in a solution of 70% isopropyl
alcohol for 10 minutes.
- Remove the petri dishes and covers and stack them on a clean
surface to dry. Reassemble dishes and covers. They are now ready
for storage or reuse.