Honduras health and safety - Operation Wallacea

Expedition Information

Honduras health and safety

Risk is inherent in everything that we do in life. Without accepting and understanding these risks, we would not be able to do anything at all. The first concern of all activities undertaken as part of Operation Wallacea expeditions is to gain an understanding of the environments we will be working in, and from this to reduce risk to health and safety as far as is possible. These pages are devoted to explaining our approach to health and safety, and to giving as much advice as we are responsibly able.

Health & safety documents

Risk Assessments
Medical and Evacuation Procedures
Health and Safety Information for Local Education Authorities
2017 Health and Safety Report
BS8848 compliance document
Dive Standards and Procedures

After an independent assessment Operation Wallacea has been awarded the Learning Outside the Classroom badge for safety and quality.

Operation Wallacea’s Approach to Health and Safety

The first concern of all activities undertaken as part of Operation Wallacea expeditions is the reduction of risk to health and safety as far as practically possible. Operation Wallacea has a seven point health & safety policy which is reproduced below together with notes on how each of these policy points are implemented:

1. Provision of relevant health and safety information to all volunteers before they arrive in Honduras.

  • All volunteers are provided with information on the immunisations and prophylactic medications required before they join the project.
  • Information is also provided on necessary equipment for activities such as trekking and staying in the forest.

2. Ensuring that appropriate qualified and experienced staff are employed on the project and that all field staff and group leaders are trained in the safe operating procedures.

  • All staff have to go through an on site induction course which includes training in the relevant procedures.
  • Auditing of operating procedures on a regular basis at each camp followed by meetings of all relevant staff to identify corrective actions needed.

3. Identification of the risks associated with activities and locations, as well as the development of measures to minimise these risks.

  • Risk assessments are produced by the relevant staff for each location visited (dive site, forest base camp, trek location) activity undertaken (eg diving, trekking, etc) as well as specific research project associated risks.
  • Staff are required to consult these reports before visiting a new site, undertaking a new activity or participating in a new project. The risk assessments are continually evaluated and updated.

4. Development and implementation of safe operating procedures for each of the activities undertaken.

  • The risk assessments identify the main safety measures to reduce the risk to volunteers at the various camps and on different activities.
  • There is regular on site auditing to check that the risk reduction measures identified in the risk assessments are being implemented in full.

5. Ensuring there are adequate communication, medical and evacuation procedures in position

  • The main bases in the forest and at Tela, Utila and Roatan, the transport boats to and from the islands, and the vehicles moving volunteers between camps all have radio and/or cell phone contact. All boats leaving the marine bases have VHF radios and/or cell phone contact and a check in check out procedure for each journey. These radios can communicate with the research centre in the event of an emergency.
  • All teams working in the forest have to carry a radio and check in and out when operating from the forest base camps. Each of the camps has a qualified Medical Officer and extensive medical supplies.
  • All teams leaving these camps have to carry a First Aid kit with them.
  • All dive boats have to carry a First Aid kit, an oxygen supply and delivery system capable of administering oxygen for sufficient time for the boat to return to the dive base. The Tela,  Utila and Roatan bases have large oxygen bottles with an adequate supply for evacuating two patients to recompression facilities in Roatan or Utila. All dive staff supervising dives have been trained in oxygen administration.
  • The Medical Officer is responsible for ensuring that all the medical kits and oxygen bottles are replenished as necessary.
  • There are hospitals with good facilities for most possible injuries (eg broken bones, dehydration, snake bites, tropical diseases, in San Pedro Sula and La Ceiba, and a decompression chamber on Utila and Roatan.
  • Evacuation plans for Medium, High and Emergency Priority evacuations have been developed for each of the sites. Evacuation plans for Medium Priority (fastest overland route to a hospital) and Low Priority (most convenient and comfortable overland route) have also been developed for each site and will be practised before the start of the season.

6. Training of all volunteers on arrival in the safe operating procedures, and acquainting them with the medical facilities available.

  • All volunteers on arrival are given a general health and safety briefing.
  • Additional briefings are given by leaders as the volunteers join new projects or visit new areas

7. Recording all illnesses, accidents, near-misses or incidents which may have a bearing on health and safety and using this information as part of an ongoing refinement of the operating procedures.

  • The Medical Officers keep detailed confidential medical records on all staff and volunteers, which are used in combination with accident and ‘near miss’ data reported by various staff, in compiling accident and illness reports.
  • The accident and illness reports are published on the Op Wall web site.

General travel and health advice

It is worth checking the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office or the US State Departments’ web pages on travel advice to Honduras. Both stress that most visits to the country are trouble free but that petty and occasionally, violent crime can be a problem in the country. The sites where you will be based on the Op Wall expeditions are remote and relatively unpopulated, so this is not likely to be an issue. However we always monitor the various government advice on travel to different areas of Honduras and will react accordingly should travel be deemed unsafe to any of the project locations. The main risk from crime is when you are travelling to and from the sites and you will be accompanied at all times on these journeys by experienced Operation Wallacea staff.

The FCO also states that ‘the terrorism threat is low, but you should be aware of indiscriminate attacks from terrorists in public places ….. throughout the world’. We are continually monitoring the situation in Honduras and will update our advice according to the latest information available.

Physical Fitness

The level of fitness required to participate in the research programme varies depending on the site at which you will be based. Hiking between camps while carrying your own bag can be  one of the more physically demanding challenges you will face. In these cases you are going to need to be able to carry a pack and trek for 3 – 5 hours in temperatures of 25-30 degrees Celsius and 80 -90% humidity. For university research assistants spending 4 or more weeks on site and wishing to trek across the centre of the park, the walk between Cantiles and El Danto camps will take, on average, 7hrs to complete, although frequent rest stops will be taken along the way (including a stop for lunch)

The next most strenuous sites are the Cusuco fly camps where you may be trekking for 3 – 4 hours per day but at lower temperatures and mostly in the shade. If you are at Buenos Aires the treks are often in more exposed areas with far less canopy cover so temperatures can be higher than at the other camps. At Cusuco Base Camp the transects are, generally, not as tough as at some of the fly camps and are mostly shaded by the Canopy

Before you join the project it is well worth starting a fitness routine so that you can get to the level required for the site at which you will be based. You will still have to acclimatise to the higher temperatures though when you arrive!