Health, Safety and Fitness - Operation Wallacea

Health, Safety and Fitness

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. All the expeditions provided by Operation Wallacea meet the requirements of BS8848 Specification for the provision of visits, fieldwork, expeditions and adventurous outside the UK (self-declared). Detailed documents explaining how each of the expeditions complies with the clauses of BS8848 are published on the Operation Wallacea web site before the start of the research programmes.  In addition, Opwall has been audited and awarded a Learning Outside the Classroom badge for taking students on overseas expeditions. Safety auditing is also performed at each of the sites during the research programmes.  Reports on the accidents and illnesses that occurred during the expeditions each year are published on the website.

Operation Wallacea has a seven point health & safety policy which is reproduced below together with short notes on how each of these policy points are implemented in the various countries.

Provision of relevant health and safety information to all volunteers before they arrive on site
The website contains information on the immunisations and prophylactic medications required for volunteers going to different countries as well as information on necessary equipment for activities such as trekking, staying in the forest, diving etc. In addition, pre-expedition webinars are organised to provide an interactive briefing to students.

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
Operational procedures have been prepared for each site and staff have to go through an on site induction course which includes training in the relevant procedures. Implementation of the procedures is audited on a regular basis by Health & Safety or medical staff on site and non-conformances reported to the relevant staff for corrective actions to be implemented.  On the dive training side of the expeditions all the staff are PADI Dive Instructors or higher, whilst all dive support in the water is given by PADI Dive Masters or above. Unlike the PADI scheme, which is clearly relevant for the marine side of the project, on the terrestrial sides of the project there are often no directly applicable qualification schemes.  This is approached by ensuring the senior staff at each site have extensive experience in relevant skills (e.g. field camp management, jungle training, canopy access etc).  Bush training and field surveys in South Africa do, however, have relevant qualification schemes for guides (FGASA) and for carrying firearms in the field, and senior staff on this project have these qualifications.

Identification of the risks associated with activities and locations, as well as the development of measures to minimise these risks
Risk assessments have been produced for each location visited (dive site, forest, bush or desert camp, trek location), activity undertaken (e.g. diving, trekking, etc.), and specific research project associated risks.  These risk assessments are on the Operation Wallacea website and can be downloaded to help with planning your expedition. Volunteers, when they first arrive, are required to complete an exercise where they are asked to identify the risks likely to be encountered at the site and on the various activities and projects they will be doing.  This process is designed to get all volunteers thinking about risks and how to reduce them for themselves before they are told of the agreed risk reduction measures.

Development and implementation of safe operating procedures for each of the activities undertaken
Procedures to ensure trekking teams remain in contact with all the members of the group are practised. Sign out/in procedures for all groups leaving terrestrial camps have been put into position and search and recovery procedures prepared for teams missing return and contact deadlines.  Additional procedures cover aspects such as safe driving, hygiene, snorkelling and swimming and many other aspects. All diving is carried out in accordance with procedures in accordance with PADI and include limiting diving to two dives a day, maximum depth for survey and training dives of 18m, a maximum 50 minute dive (unless the dive is to 5m or less), a minimum surface interval between dives and each diver must return to the surface with at least 50 bar remaining in the tank. All boats have a sign out/sign in procedure and have to carry oxygen and First Aid kits.

Ensuring there are adequate communication, medical and evacuation procedures in position
At all sites and on all transport routes there are multiple methods of communications comprising VHF radios, satellite phones, cell phones and email. It is possible to contact the teams in the field directly from the UK coordinating office.  A Medical Officer (doctor, accident and emergency nurse or emergency paramedic) is at each main camp.  Where the camps are close to US standard hospitals then Emergency First Aid trained staff are used as the Medical Officers whereas in the sites where access to high standard hospitals is more distant then doctors with well equipped medical kits are on site. Evacuation plans for Emergency Priority evacuations (normally by air but in some cases in conjunction with overland routes), High Priority (fastest overland route to a hospital) and Medium Priority (most convenient and comfortable overland route) have been developed for each site and are published on the Operation Wallacea website before the start of each expedition.  £1 million medical and evacuation insurance cover has been purchased for all participants by Operation Wallacea so that the evacuation coordinating company appointed by the insurer can, with the help of the Medical and Evacuation plans, establish contracts and agree prices in advance with all the hospitals and air ambulances etc. likely to be used in an emergency.  This is done so there are no delays if an incident were to occur.

Briefing 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, and additional briefings are given by leaders as the volunteers join new projects or visit new areas.

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 and First Aiders keep detailed confidential medical records and summary reports on all staff and volunteers, which are used in combination with accident and ‘near miss’ data reported, in compiling accident and illness reports. These reports are published for each country on the Operation Wallacea web site at the end of each season’s expeditions. These analyses have been performed on all the expeditions run by Operation Wallacea since 2004 and show that joining an expedition is as safe as going on a sports tour (e.g. football, rugby) or taking part in activities such as skiing.

Fitness levels required
The forest projects, particularly Honduras and, to a lesser extent, Indonesia, Guyana, Mexico, and Madagascar as well as the Transylvania expeditions require reasonable levels of fitness. The survey work can be physically demanding, and on top of that the working conditions may be hot, humid and/or tiring. A useful guide to fitness is that if you are capable of walking for up to 2 hours each day over hilly ground on well defined footpaths carrying a 15kg rucksack then you should be fine for most of the projects. However if you are fitter than this then you will have a greater choice of projects you can join.

Grade level

Definition of fitness and health risk

1 Capable of trekking up mountains over rough ground for 5 hours with a 15kg rucksack and no health problems that would require medical assistance in remote camps.
2 Capable of trekking up mountains over rough ground for 3 hours with a 15kg rucksack and no health problems that would require medical assistance in remote camps.
3 Capable of trekking for up to 2 hours on well defined footpaths with a 15kg rucksack and no health problems that would likely require medical assistance.
4 Lower fitness levels than any of the above definitions or with a medical condition that could reduce ability in the field or require emergency evacuation.

Research Assistants generally have to complete week-long jungle training or bush training courses before joining the main research programmes. Their fitness is assessed during these courses, and advice is offered on appropriate camps or projects. Marine projects are generally possible with lower levels of fitness (the marine teams may not agree!), although there are various swim tests required for diving and snorkel based projects. For example, to undertake Open Water Dive training you need to be able to swim 200m unaided, and the more comfortable you are in the water the more you will enjoy your time on a marine site.