Field trips and off-site visits

This guidance assists staff responsible for organising field trips ensure appropriate arrangements for health and safety are in place. It is primarily focussed at trips taking place in the UK, although the forms and checklists are relevant to all field trips.

You must use one of the University's approved travel management providers to arrange travel and accommodation. As well as sourcing suitable flights/transport and accommodation, they offer a range of services to enhance safety, such as travel risk information email/texts and a 24-hour emergency travel reschedule service. They will also have carried out health and safety checks on the suppliers they recommend.

For trips involving hazardous research activities and those taking place overseas, please see:

Planning and risk assessment

Field trips and organised recreational visits vary greatly in their complexity and the risks they present. The tools provided on this site enable a risk-based approach to the detail of paperwork normally required.

Type of trip Paperwork required 
All field trips with students and/or five or more participants Field trip emergency incident procedures (.docx)
Straightforward, low-risk UK/overseas visits with fewer than five travellers Field trip planning checklist (.docx) (optional) 
Straightforward, low-risk UK visits with students and/or five or more travellers  Field trip planning checklist (.docx)
Field trips involving hazardous activities or visits to remote locations  Group travel planning form (.docx) if 5 or more participants. Formal risk assessmentFormal risk assessmentFormal risk assessment 
 Overseas field trip Group travel planning form (.docx) if 5 or more participants. Formal risk assessment may be required depending on planned activities, participants and country-specific risk information (see 'researching your destination' in overseas traveloverseas traveloverseas travel.
 Overseas field trip to high/extreme-risk locations Overseas travel risk assessment must be completed and approved by Head of Department, see overseas traveloverseas traveloverseas travel

Contact the Health and Safety Advisory Service (HSAS) if you need assistance with risk assessment.

Staff roles and responsibilities

Staff attending the trip should be clear about their responsibilities. There should be a clearly identifiable trip leader who is a member of staff. Where the trip is a mixture of staff and students, those members of staff assisting with the trip organisation and supervision should be clearly identified. The trip leader must ensure that those given responsibility to supervise sub-groups know how many and who they are responsible for.

Supervision levels

There are no hard and fast rules about the level supervision of students who are over 18. You will need to take account of the risks associated with the trip, for example:

  • location and activity risks
  • risks associated with time of year (eg adverse weather) and time that the trip takes place
  • the number of participants
  • the competence of the group undertaking the trip
  • varying language skills or awareness of cultural, legal and risk issues for students and their family members who are new to the UK. This includes their awareness of how to get help in an emergency in the UK
  • availability and knowledge of alternative transport arrangements should members of the group become separated
  • whether any participants have disabilities or special needs
  • the need to provide an appropriate level of support should a serious incident occur (eg coach accident, participant/group leader suffering illness or serious accident, severe delay, terrorist attack). See emergency arrangements below
  • the transport providers emergency arrangements

For children and young people up to the age of 18 the NSPCC guidelines on supervision ratios are recommended.

Local trips involving ten or fewer students

  • At least one of the supervisors should be a member of staff who is experienced in organising and running the trips.

Trips outside of town where campus is located

  • There should be a minimum of two responsible members of staff present. At least one of the supervisors should be a member of staff who is experienced in organising and running trips.
  • There should be at least one responsible member of staff per coach.
  • Additional supervisors may be needed for high risk activities, unless the activity is under the control of a competent activity provider (eg an adventurous activities provider).

Use of frontrunners to assist with supervision

The frontrunner scheme is a work experience scheme and students should have adequate supervision. The guidance to the frontrunner scheme states, "the appropriate level of responsibility for a placement is equivalent to an assisting role, rather than a leading role".

Whilst a frontrunner can be used to assist with supervision they are not a replacement for experienced, competent and responsible members of staff.

Briefing participants

It is important to give participants on a trip as much information as possible about what is involved, including date, time, location and supervision arrangements. All participants should also be informed about significant risks and any precautions they may need to take (eg mobile phones, suitable clothing etc).

Participants on field trips also have a responsibility to follow instructions given to them by the trip leader and supervisors and to raise any concerns with them. They will need to be briefed on their responsibilities prior to the trip. Please refer to the Code of Conduct section for further information.

Examples of areas participants will also need to be briefed on:

  • significant risks and controls
  • whether they need to take any precautions: eg appropriate clothing for weather /terrain, sun hat/screen, water
  • programme of activities with timings
  • arrangements for breaks and down time (see below)
  • transport arrangements
  • emergency arrangements
  • communication arrangements
  • significant cultural and legal requirements that may need to be considered

Participants with special needs

The successful experience of a field or recreational trip relies on appropriate planning and communication between participating students, organisers, group leaders and venue. You should provide students with sufficient detail about the fieldwork/event so that they can express any concerns or discuss any additional needs they may have.

You will need to ask participants to inform the trip organiser/group leader in good time if they have any special requirements, (eg disabilities, medical needs, dietary requirements. Participants should be given the opportunity to provide information confidentially). Some students may volunteer personal information, others may not and there is no legal obligation on an individual to do so.

Adjustments

Under the Equality Act 2010 the University must make reasonable adjustments to enable all students to participate in fieldwork.

Examples of adjustments might include provision of a prayer room or separate male and female rest areas, notification of food allergies, or ensuring transport providers and venues have suitable arrangements for students with physical disabilities.

In some cases, it may also be reasonable to restrict the activities of participants if it can be shown that their safety or the safety of others could be compromised. In such cases, you must seek specialist advice before making such a decision. Refer to the guidance on people especially at riskpeople especially at riskpeople especially at risk for further information.

Pregnancy

If a member of staff or student is pregnant a risk assessment may be necessary.

Occupational health considerations (staff only)

Have any of the trip participants answered Yes to any of the following questions*?

  • Do you have any underlying physical or mental health problems or disabilities that affect your fitness to travel?
  • Are you having, or waiting for any treatment or investigations for any condition that would affect your ability to travel?
  • Have you ever required or do you require any adjustments for travel based on an underlying medical condition?

Do you have any medical problem, or disability which you would like to discuss with Occupational Health?

If participants answer Yes to any of the above occupational health questions the participant will be required to complete a confidential health questionnaire prior to UK travel, that will be sent to them directly. This needs to be requested directly from ohquery@essex.ac.uk

*Participants should be given the opportunity to declare the information confidentially

Under 18s and adults at risk

The University is both legally obliged and committed to safeguarding and promoting the welfare of those who are under 18 years of age, or adults at risk, who participate in our activities or services. Any member of staff is in a position or trust, particularly those who teach, guide or interact with students in any way.

Any fieldwork involving participants under the age of 18 or those who are considered an adult at risk, must adhere to the University’s Policy on Safeguarding Children and Adults at Risk. The safeguarding webpage includes information on training and support and a link to a useful guidance leaflet.

Planning for emergencies

Consideration will need to be given to how foreseeable emergencies would be managed. In the event of an emergency, the trip leader would need to have sufficient competence to be able to take control of the situation (from the University perspective), liaise with the emergency services and University, whilst providing emotional support to the trip participants. There may be a need to arrange for overnight accommodation or alternative transport home.

Participants should be given a University emergency contact number (eg member of staff or the group leader/s). They should also be asked to provide their contact number and the name and contact numbers (home/work) of an emergency contact (eg their next of kin) to the group leader/s. If the trip is during office hours and emergency contact information is readily available to the department, it may be sufficient for the group leader to know who to contact at the University to access this information.

Leave names and contact details of participants and a planned itinerary with a departmental contact. The group leader should check in to confirm the next destination is arrived at (in case of an accident en route) or to advise of a deviation from the itinerary. The field trip emergency incident procedures (.docx) includes a form for this purpose. Those at the Colchester Campus should also provide a copy of the form to the Information CentreInformation CentreInformation Centre.

Make sure that your department contact (and where relevant the Information Centre) is informed of any last minute changes to the list of those going on the trip. Further information can be found in the incidents and emergencies section below.

Terrorism

Attacks in the UK and abroad remind us all of the terrorist threat we face. Although these attacks are rare, it is important that you consider the risks in the location where you are travelling, be vigilant and be aware of how to protect yourself and your group in the event of an incident. For example you should consider how you will account for the whereabouts and safety of your Group if a major incident occurred at the location you are visiting as part of your emergency plans.

You may find the following guidance helpful:

 

  • Stay safe: Leaflet and film advising on the steps you can take to keep yourself safe in the rare event of a firearms or weapons attack.
  • citizenAID: is a free app which gives guidance on what to do in the event of an incident.

If you are travelling overseastravelling overseastravelling overseas also read the country-specific advice from Drum Cussac or Gov.UK.

Accommodation

Overnight accommodation

The suitability of overnight accommodation will need to be assessed, giving consideration to:

  • Fire safety
  • Personal security
  • General safety of the structure and facilities – for example, pools, lifts, balconies, electrics and gas safety
  • The environment surrounding the accommodation
  • The needs of all fieldworkers, paying particular attention to those with disabilities, young people and vulnerable adults

The University is responsible for arranging accommodation for organised field trips that are provided as part of the curriculum. It is not acceptable to expect students to make their own arrangements. Accommodation should be booked through the University’s approved travel management providers, who will have carried out health and safety checks on the accommodation suppliers they recommend. The University does not allow the use of Air BnB. (See finance compliance FAQs)

On arriving at the accommodation make sure that you are satisfied with the emergency and security arrangements in place. (eg. are fire escape routes clear and exits unlocked). You will also need to ensure that all travellers in the group are advised on what to in the event of a fire or other emergency.

Transport

Taking breaks

Lack of familiarity with the vehicle, tiredness or distraction by noisy passengers can increase the risk of accidents. It is important to plan regular rest breaks (a 15-minute break every two hours is recommended). An additional driver may be necessary for longer journeys. This should be part of the risk assessment.

Staff vehicles

Staff using their own vehicles for transport must follow their department's policy and/or risk assessment for drivingrisk assessment for drivingrisk assessment for driving. Staff need to ensure they inform their insurance company, who may require insurance for business use. Vehicles should be roadworthy and suitable for the type of trip being undertaken, the vehicle safety checklist (.doc) can be used for this purpose.

Student vehicles

If you organise travel using vehicles owned or driven by students or other participants not employed by the University, you are responsible for ensuring they have a valid driving licence, are competent, appropriately insured and follow the department's policy and/or risk assessment for driving.

Check the vehicles are suitable and roadworthy (eg ask for confirmation of a current MOT). Remember, younger drivers are much more likely to be involved in a road incident due to having less experience.

Letting participants arrange their own transport

This is outside the responsibility of the University. You will need to make clear to students that the trip starts and finishes at the venue. Participants are responsible for their own travel arrangements and costs. Relying on students to arrange their own transport may disadvantage those without vehicles or with disabilities. Leaving travel arrangements up to the student/s may not be appropriate if the group includes under 18s.

Consider whether the venue can be reached by public transport, the duration of travel and time of day the travel takes place. Also consider whether a student's non-attendance on the trip because of transportation difficulties would significantly impact on the student's studies. You will also need to consider what would happen should an incident occur at the location you are travelling to. Please refer to the Planning for Emergencies section above.

Whilst letting students make their own travel arrangements may be acceptable for low risk travel within the UK, it isn’t appropriate for overseas field trips. Overseas field trips should be arranged by making use of the University's travel management providers.

Minibuses, coaches and public transport

Minibuses

Any member of staff or student wishing to drive a minibus must have the relevant category on their licence to permit them to drive the vehicle in question:

  • staff/students who passed their driving test before 01/01/97 and have a D1 category on their licence can drive our minibuses (with up to 16 passengers), providing they are not being paid to do so.
  • staff/students who passed their driving test after 01/01/97, will not have been automatically given a D1 category on their licence (they may have category B, which is for social use only), but they will not be permitted to drive a University mini bus unless they have applied for and received a D1 category to their licence.

Coaches

You must hire coaches from a reputable company. Coaches hired via the University's travel management providers have undergone a safety vetting process. If you do not use the University's travel management providers, you need to check that the coach company has appropriate PSV operator's licence, public liability insurance to the value of £5 million and that seatbelts are fitted. The Guild of British Coach Operators offers quality assured coach services and guidance on chartering a coach with confidence (.pdf).

Bookings should be made via the travel management provider or through Agresso. This ensures the coach company is bound by the University's terms and conditions.

Consider safety during boarding and alighting coaches, check for a safe area at any meeting points and at the trip destination. The group leader/s must inform participants of the need to wear the seatbelts provided (this is a legal requirement) and to avoid behaviour that could distract the driver.

Public transport

The provider is responsible for the safety of passengers. Make sure travel times are clearly communicated to participants, that they arrive at airports, train or bus stations in plenty of time and allow sufficient time for transfers. Consider reserving seats in advance where possible. Check what alternative travel arrangements are available if a train or bus is delayed or missed.

Activities

Visitor attractions

If you are visiting an attraction, such as a museum, you can assume that they will have appropriate safety measures in place. Advise the venue in advance if you intend to visit with a large group and check whether there are any specific safety issues/requirements you or they need to be aware of. Also check access/fire evacuation arrangements if group members have permanent or temporary disabilities that could affect their ability to evacuate safely. You are responsible for the behaviour of the group whilst under your supervision.

Visits to other employer establishments

All employers are responsible for providing safe premises and a safe environment for visitors. Check whether the employer has any specific safety issues/requirements. Participants must obey the other employer's safety arrangements and must be provided with and wear personal protective equipment when required. Familiarise all participants with the fire and emergency procedures. Advise the employer in writing if there are group members with permanent or temporary disabilities that could affect accessing areas to be visited or evacuating safely. Access and fire evacuation arrangements therefore need to be checked.

Any activities which could present high risk to the group or to an individual, must be risk assessed in advance. The employer you are visiting should be able to provide their health and safety precautions for such a visit which should be reviewed for adequacy. Examples include laboratory work, use of specialist equipment such as high power magnets/lasers, work with or potential exposure to hazardous substances, or an environment where there is a particular risk of violence. Contact HSAS if assistance is needed.

Remote supervision / lone working

High risk activities should be risk assessed in advance and welfare arrangements closely monitored throughout. This means establishing and maintaining appropriate contact with a responsible person, such as a tutor or mentor.

For activities where supervision will be indirect, establish clear ground rules in advance of the trip. Ensure participants know how to contact group leaders in an emergency and agree times for reporting back; this may be at the start, during and conclusion of the trip. Make it clear that it is not acceptable for participants to leave the group at any point during a trip without first notifying the group leader. If students are permitted to leave, a check must be made that they are able to get to their destination or home safely.

Fieldwork involving interviewing members of the public should be subject to risk assessment and specific safety procedures (eg. work in pairs and carry out interviews in public areas).

Adventurous activities

Adventurous activities involve an accepted level of risk or challenge and so require specialist skills for their safe management, eg trekking, climbing or water sports. Those leading activities must be competent in the activity, such as holding the relevant National Governing Body qualification. The trip organiser may have to appoint a competent third party provider if the trip leader is not suitably qualified. A check needs to be made on the provider's safety procedures and insurance (public liability with minimum cover £5 million).

Risk assessment

Trips that involve adventurous activities must be risk assessed. For example, if you are planning any water-based activities the assessment should take account of what lifesaving/rescue facilities there are at the location/s being visited.

Insurance

If you are planning to include an adventurous activity in your field trip you will need to complete a Travel Insurance Application Form. The insurance only covers activities organised by the University as part of work or study. If participants choose to do an adventurous activity during their leisure time they will need their own insurance.

Outdoor activities

For fieldwork taking place outdoors you may need to consider natural hazards, for example:

Tick bites

If you are visiting woodland or heath areas in the UK, parts of Europe or North America participants may need to be warned about risks arising from tick bites:

Incidents and emergencies

First aid emergencies

You must assess first aid needs. If you are using public transport and visiting established visitor attractions or employer premises it is unlikely that additional measures will be needed. If undertaking field work to remote areas you need to organise first aid resources, including first aid equipment and staff trained in first aid. Contact the Occupational Health ServiceOccupational Health ServiceOccupational Health Service for further advice.

A means of calling emergency services should be available. If travelling to remote areas consider whether there may be difficulties with mobile phone charging or signal reception.

Serious health and safety incidents

The University has procedures in place for serious health and safety incidents on or off campus. This ensures those involved in the incident are supported, an investigation is initiated, media enquiries are managed, and those that need to know are kept informed of developments. The procedure is initiated by contacting the Colchester Campus Information CentreInformation CentreInformation Centre. The Information Centre then makes a decision about who to call to initiate a response.

On field trips or off-site the procedure in the event of an emergency is to call:

  • emergency services (eg. 999 or 112)
  • Health and Safety Advisory Serivce (HSAS) (daytime) 0044 1206 872944
  • Colchester Campus Information Centre (0044) 1206 872125
  • the travel insurance company, if overseas, using their emergency number in your travel insurance documents
  • your agreed departmental contact (see contact details/exchange of information above) or head of department (if necessary HSAS or the Information Centre can do this on your behalf)

If you have booked travel through one of the University’s travel management providers, they will contact you in the event of a major incident affecting your travel and can assist with alternative travel arrangements.

We recommend the fieldtrip emergency incident procedures (.docx) is completed and used. Find out more about serious incident reportingserious incident reportingserious incident reporting.

Incident reporting and investigation

Group leaders must report an accident or incidentreport an accident or incidentreport an accident or incident to HSAS. Group leaders should also keep their head of department informed.

A report form must be completed for each accident, near miss incident or dangerous occurrence, along with an investigation form. It may be helpful to also take photographs of the incident area, if this is appropriate in the circumstances and it is safe to do so. Both documents should be forwarded promptly to the HSAS.

Behaviour

Code of conduct

Make sure participants understand that inappropriate behaviour will affect the University's reputation and could affect the safety of others. Establish clear ground rules and state that the University's student disciplinary regulations apply to those who do not comply. This code of conduct (.doc) example could be used to gain agreement to acceptable standards of behaviour.

For overseas field trips make sure you, and the participants are aware of cultural expectation and differences in legal requirements in the country being visited. See 'researching your destination' in overseas traveloverseas traveloverseas travel.

Alcohol

If there are opportunities to consume alcohol, participants should be advised that excessive drinking is not acceptable and they will be excluded from field trip activities if their alcohol consumption puts them and others at risk. It is important that those in a supervisory role are at work and need to be fit for work. They may, for instance, need to deal with an emergency situation.

Leisure time

Personal time

This is time when programmed fieldwork activities are not taking place, but participants are under the general jurisdiction of the University. Examples of personal time could include sightseeing or organised social activities. Group leaders can agree appropriate behaviour/expectations for personal time. The University's student disciplinary regulations continue to apply.

Down time

This is time before, during or after a field trip where participants are outside the University's jurisdiction. An example would be where students arrange their own transport. Although students will not be under the University's control, any incident that occurs during student downtime may affect the University's reputation and group leaders may have to deal with the consequences of a serious incident or delay to the fieldwork programme. It is therefore better to minimise downtime and organise social events as part of personal time.

Further information and advice

Assistance is available from a variety of University sources:

Fieldwork training and technical advice

Training Expertise provide specialist training in first aid, field safety, overseas travel and expeditions. They have courses for universities, adventure travellers and businesses.

The Royal Geographic Society promotes, supports and enhance geographical research, education, fieldwork and expeditions.

Contact us
Contact us
Health and Safety Advisory Service
Telephone: 01206 872944