Planning for time abroad
The University has a duty of care to protect, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of its staff and students. At times, due to the necessity to carry out activities away from the University, either in the United Kingdom or overseas, students might conduct work and other activities in locations not under University control, but the University still remains responsible for them and others exposed to their activities. As such, it is essential that students keep their supervisor and department informed of when they will be spending time away from Sheffield, and where they will be.
It is important that careful thought is given not only to the research data collection but also to the potential issues and problems that could arise. High standards of health and safety in fieldwork are paramount and therefore the University strongly advises that discussions should take place between the student, supervisor(s) and the department about measures that can be taken to ensure the student’s wellbeing. This should be in plenty of time before travelling to be able to plan appropriately. A good starting point is to undertake a risk assessment such as that published by the Field Studies Council. Safety is the result of thorough planning, care and common sense and overrides all other considerations, including academic. Also, students and supervisors should consult the University’s guidance on fieldwork in 'The Management of Health and Safety on Fieldwork and Other Off-campus Activities Policy and Guidance'.
The majority of overseas travel and fieldwork will occur within areas deemed to be safe by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). The FCO website provides information on safety for your planned visit, however, it is worth undertaking a risk assessment for work off-campus because there will not be the same level of ready access to the support services of the University. For proposed work in areas deemed to be unsafe, students are required to provide a very robust risk assessment as part of the approval process for their trip. This includes work undertaken in the UK.
Risk assessment is the fundamental tool to ensure safety is effectively managed. The following are three steps to risk assessment:
- Identify the hazards;
- Evaluate the risks and decide on precautions;
- Review your assessment and update if necessary.
The likelihood and severity of the hazard occurring can be scored on a scale of 1-10 (1 = low risk, 5 high risk), with resultant risk being assessed as:
- More than 10 - Take immediate action to either remove or control the risk, for example a less risky option, prevent access to the hazard;
- 8 to 10 - Inform people of the risk and look at ways of reducing it;
- Less than 8 - Monitor the situation more closely and aim to reduce risk over longer term
The risk assessment should be reviewed periodically and updated if any significant changes to circumstances, events or findings have emerged.
Things to think about
As well as a risk assessment, the following points might prompt thoughts and discussions about the planned study trip. While there may be particular issues to do with the specific location being travelled to, the following are prompts to consider about common and general issues.
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- In anticipation of possible emergency scenarios the department should set out procedures and steps to be taken in accordance with university guidelines. Advice can be obtained by contacting Student Support and Guidance or, out of hours, by calling the University’s control room.
- Students should have a contingency plan in the event of an emergency and ensure that their supervisor knows of this prior to travel.
- The University Control Room should be given the contact details of a person to be notified in case they are informed directly that a problem has arisen.
- Wherever possible, students should have someone in the destination country as a contact point. When taking trips off campus to do interviews or other field work, students should make sure that the local contacts know where they are (i.e. they should leave their phone number and take their mobile phone). Avoid conducting fieldwork within private homes or where there are no other people within easy reach wherever possible.
- Immunisation against tetanus is recommended as a minimum for all persons working in rural environments and is particularly important for those coming into contact with soil/animals or if the fieldwork could result in exposure to certain pathogenic organisms. The University’s Occupational Health provider can offer advice and students can obtain a vaccination programme through the University Health Service. The University Health Service provides a full travel service to students and staff, including advice and immunisations.