West, I.M. 2013. Safety on Geological Field Trips. Geology of the Wessex Coast. Internet site: www.southampton.ac.uk/~imw/safety.htm. Version 19th December 2013.

Safety on Geological Field Trips

Ian West,
Romsey, Hampshire

and Visiting Scientist at:
Faculty of Natural and Environmental Sciences,
Southampton University,
Webpage hosted by courtesy of iSolutions, Southampton University
Home and Contents |Safety on Geological Field Trips - Bibliography|

Disclaimer regarding the Field Guide Web Sites by Ian West.

Geological fieldwork involves some level of risk; one part of this may come from chance events that are unpredictable and little can be done about it; another part of the risk, however, can be greatly reduced by awareness of hazards and good judgement based on experience. Persons undertaking field work must assess the risk, as far as possible, and this will vary in accordance with weather, cliff and sea conditions on the day and the experience, age, fitness and other characteristics of the persons. In providing field guides on the Internet no person is advised or recommended here to undertake geological field work in any way that might involve them in unreasonable risk from cliffs, ledges, rocks, sea or other causes. Individuals and leaders should carefully consider the safety aspects on the occasion of their visit and in bad conditions be prepared to cancell or modify part or all of the field trip as is necessary for safety. Appropriate safety and first-aid equipment should be taken, and ideally mobile phones should be available. Permission should be sought for entry into private land and clearly no damage should take place. Attention should be paid to weather warnings, local warnings and danger signs. No liability for death, injury, damage to, or loss of property in connection with a field trip is accepted by providing these websites of geological information.

Safety - Introduction

Most accidents at geological exposures of cliffs, quarries and mountains have occurred to non-geologists when walking, climbing or working. Some accidents have occurred to geologists and geology or geography students on field trips in the south coast of England region described here and elsewhere (Lee, 1992). Geological field work carries some risk, but it can be reduced by knowledge, experience and a careful approach.

Accidents during geological fieldwork may be broadly classified. Some of the accidents are almost chance events (e.g. in dry weather a seagull dislodges a small rock). Some, however, are avoidable, at least in theory (e.g. going close to loose rock on cliffs in or just after heavy rain) although, unfortunately, not always necessarily totally avoidable in practice. There are of course "grey areas", not sharp boundaries between these two types. Organisations normally make risk assessments and have their own safety rules which, of course, they should follow. The notes below are for guidance of those doing geology or geomorphology on the southern England coast who may be unfamiliar with the types of risks involved. The comments here regarding safety are informal, not instructions, and have no official status> They are based on long experience of leading southern England field trips. Emphasis is on specific known problems regarding coastal fieldwork.

There is no guarantee of safety at the foot of cliffs. This is because cliffs are products of erosion and they exist only because of sea-erosion at the base with, sooner or later, some consequent cliff-fall. Nevertheless, cliff activity takes place at a greater rate in some places than in others and it mostly occurs in bad weather conditions and in the Winter and Spring. Risks can be greatly reduced by good information, good observation and good judgement. Please check tides and weather conditions and, if possible, obtain advance information on the state of the cliffs.

" A Code for Geological Fieldwork " is issued by the Geologist's Association, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London.

On geological field trips attention should be paid to the various potential hazards that can be reasonably predicted and methods of field-working safely. Inevitably some have been overlooked. In general when doing geology, it is usually vehicles, weather, water and rocks which on rare occasions cause serious accidents. Mines and mountains are places of many accidents. A bibliography provides some information on geological and other field trip risks and accidents for the south coast of England and elsewhere.

The rules for British school parties have been conveniently summarised in a [old] newspaper article by Wainwright and Smithers (2002). They stated that guidance on education visits and trips for local education authorities was substantially revised in 1998.

The rules, at the time, stated that schools and group leaders should:

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Some of the main risks for geological and geomorphological fieldwork in British areas, are listed below:

1a. Rock Falls - General

(Discussed in more detail below)

View of Durlston Bay from above the Cinder Bed promontory

Purbeck Formation in East Over cliff

Small rock falls are very common - particularly in wet weather and particularly at the many shale and shale/limestone cliffs, and accidents have happened. Falls can occur from any cliff that has not degraded into a vegetated slope.

Examples include - above: the Purbeck Formation at Durlston Bay, south of the Cinder promontory. Here the lower cliff is steep and the upper has loose debris. Right: the (easily avoided) Hard Cockle Overhang in the same formation on the eastern side of Lulworth Cove. Here debris falls over the ledge to form small piles on the beach. There have been fatal accidents at both these sites (Anonymous, 1977; Lee, 1992). Places with similar geology such as Worbarrow Tout, Pondfield Cove, Bacon Hole, Stair Hole, Durdle Door, Wallsend Cove on Portland etc. carry similar special risk in certain conditions. The Purbeck unit is prone to shed blocks of limestone, marl and shale in very wet weather, particularly in January, February and early March. You can see heaps of fallen debris in the photographs, and in both cases you can see hanging slabs on the cliffs. The falls may be small in quantity but very dangerous if people are close to the cliff at these times. Certain parts of the cliff are best avoided. The extensive cliffs of Kimmeridge Clay and the long coast of Liassic clays in West Dorset present similar hazards at times (Anonymous, 1997g). Pinhay Bay is particularly prone to cliff-falls. Of course, any cliff, such as Chalk cliffs too, can yield rock falls at times. Falls are common in the northern part of Worbarrow Bay and at Ballard Cliff.

Precautions: First, think carefully about the weather and possible cliff conditions at the time of the visit. See whether the cliffs look safe before proceeding. Watch for the danger signs of recent falls. Insist that all participants wear hard hats if they approach the foot of cliffs.

Falls from the cliffs are most likely to occur in wet or frosty winter conditions. During or after heavy rain the foot of the cliff should not be approached. Avoid field trips in Late Winter and early Spring, or at least be very cautious. On all occasions the leader should look at the base of the cliff and by looking for split rocks and bounce marks appreciate how much debris, if any, has fallen recently. If there many indications of fresh falls cancell the trip or find an alternative low locality. When on a coast section strictly avoid any specific parts of the beach where there is fresh split rock. Rock falls often occur repeatly at the same place. Move people away quickly from such sites. Take extra care with large parties when the statistical risk of an accident happening to somebody is so much greater. In general minimize time at the foot of cliffs. Broad structures and large features can often be viewed safely from lower down on the beach. Never shelter under overhangs from rain; this can lead to fatalities.

Fall of Bridport Sands

Here is the debris of a fall of Bridport Sands at Burton Cliff, near Burton Bradstock. Perhaps the members of the public seen here on the rock pile should have avoided a place where further small falls could occur, but probably another major fall was unlikely. The main fall here seems to have been a sudden, catastrophic event and there may have been little or no warning. Such falls are not common as there only a few large accumulations of debris at the foot of the cliff. Similar conditions occur from time to time at East Cliff, West Bay, although rock piles are not normally this size. Photograph courtesy of Gareth Lloyd who took on 27 July, 1996, presumably shortly after the cliff fall.

As far as possible avoid parts of the cliff like this. Although fossil collectors may look for new material at a place like this, it is generally sensible not to linger where you know debris has recently fallen, in case more may follow.

[Note that the above was written long before the fatal accident at Burton Cliff!]

1b. Rock Falls and Hard Hats - Case Studies.

Student field work on cliffs

As noted above, students should wear hard hats when approaching the foot of a cliff. This illustration (Black Head, Osmington Mills, 1999) shows a typical student field trip at a relatively safe location, in which the students are carrying out graphic logging. No students were permitted on the field trip without safety helmets and all have received written and verbal warnings. However, in a large party there will almost always be some students who remove or leave off helmets at a place where they should be worn. The leader is usually busy with the geological instruction, but at the same time has to patrol the cliff, as far as possible, and deal with students breaching safety rules. This is difficult In practise because of time needed to traverse rocky beaches with boulders. Sufficient experienced sub-leaders and demonstrators would help.

There is little real danger that in dry weather on the clay cliff at Black Head, shown above, a student without a safety helmet would be injured. However, in wet weather at a steeper cliff with some hard rock, the risk is much higher.

Chalk cliffs, Culver Cliff, south end of Whitecliff Bay

Here is an example of a cliff, at Whitecliff Bay in the Isle of Wight, that reveals important geological structures but has some moderate safety problems. Because the part of the cliff shown here is a strike section, the dip of the strata can only be determined satisfactorily (and the Chalk well-seen) at the eastern (left-hand) end of this promontory. There are four main hazards in attempting to reach this point. They are as follows:

We now look at a higher-risk location.

Fieldwork at Lyme Regis

This is west of Lyme Regis. Note why the risk is higher. There is a steep, lower cliff and there is the hazardous circumstance of alternating shale and thin argillaceous limestone beds. The shale weathers back and the unsupported limestone falls. In wet winters the problem is compounded by falling of debris from slip-planes and slides above the lower cliff. At the time shown here (Spring, 1997) the cliffs were not slipping badly but, even so, the students were instructed to work on beach ledges and not the vertical cliffs. The cliff is less hazardous to the right (east) because of decreasing slope. Unfortunately, even after warnings leaders have to watch for individual students who may drift to the cliff and it takes time to get to them and send them away from the cliff. All students and staff should wear safety helmets here.

Notice in this image the natural danger signs. At the foot of the cliff on the left, there are two natural warning of risk. A large slab has fallen, and there is a small pile of shale debris. It is most important that no-one should approach these places! More widespread ability by people to recognise such danger points would produce a large increase in safety. However, a large party may be warned about such risks, and every reasonable precaution taken, but it may still be very difficult to keep a close eye on all members of the group when they are doing project work, as can be understood from this photograph. Even the ledges cannot be totally safe. In the image one block is cracked off from the bedrock, although still resting in stable position, but the students much less likely to be at risk here. Obviously, nothing on field work can be completely safe but every reasonable effort should be made to improve safety.

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2. Illness of Participant in the Field.

This is very common with large parties.

Precautions: Ask participants to notify leader of any relevant medical problems (but they may not necessarily do so). Problems may include asthma, or other breathing or heart problems during hill or cliff ascents, vertigo, nausea, back problems, limb problems, and diabetes. People with difficulties are more likely to be at the rear of a large party and a staff member should be watching for problems at the tail end.

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3. Displacement of Loose Rock by a Person on a Slope.

This is very common if several people go up a loose rocky slope or scree in a long trail.

Precautions: Avoid by by going together in a small close group, keeping lower people out of the line of fire, or by ascending loose rock very obliquely.

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4. Slips and Falls on Algal-covered Rocks

This is very common on rocks and ledges at low tide (as mentioned in section 1b) but, fortunately, not usually resulting in major injury. Back or head injury is possible though.

Precautions: Select route carefully, step between rocks or carefully only onto horizontal surfaces, wear safety helmet (particularly for head protection in forward falls), ideally, a rucksack which gives some back protection and long trousers for knee protection. Heavy clothing and gloves in winter certainly reduces cuts and bruises.

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5. Trapping in Mud

This is a danger at certain clay landslip localities, and also in the intertidal mud of estuaries.

Precautions: Avoid mudslides (mudflows), especially in winter and become aware of the surface appearance of soft mud (even when covered with loose gravel). The danger of complete submergence is small. Mudslides have a mixture of mud and rocks which prevent a spade entering and means that a person trapped is not easily dug out. The use of wooden boards and hand digging is often necessary and extraction may take two or three hours. The Barton coast section on the Dorset-Hampshire border is notorious for this but it can happen elsewhere, as at Hounstout or Black Ven or on other West Dorset clay cliffs. Estuarine muds of the Solent, Poole Harbour etc are hazardous and people should not work along in these environments. Special safety equipment may need to be taken.

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6. Hypothermia

This is usually a problem on mountains or moorlands. It can happen, even on the south coast of England, however, if a field trip continues in persistant wet weather. It could also happen from someone falling into the sea or a lake or river or by being injured and soaked in water.

Precautions: Check the weather forecast and do not persist in heavy rain or very cold weather. Insist that warm and waterproof clothing and suitable footware be taken by all participants. The leader should be aware that although he or she may be warmly dressed, some participants may have insufficient clothing on and for some particular reason be suffering from the cold. Ideally, the rear of a large party should be watched by a staff member.

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7. Hernia and Back Injuries

Hernias or back injuries may happen if fossil collectors try to move very large rock specimens, large ammonites, dinosaur footprints etc.

Precautions: Special arrangements and sufficient help may be needed to move special large specimens, if this really has to be done. Suitable equipment and safe lifting procedures are needed.

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8. Hammering Accidents

Dangerous splinters come mainly from hammering flint or chert, which is common in the Chalk, Upper Greensand and Portland Stone (Anonymous, 1950)

Precautions: See that hammering is used only when essential for specific research or collection or demonstration purposes and generally minimise it. Never hammer flint or chert (or any other very hard rock) which can cause the loss of an eye, and has done so (Anonymous, 1950). See that participants have safety goggles or other eye protection. Do not hammer near other people or work directly above or below other people; do not use a hammer on a hammer (it is hardened and can splinter). Obviously avoid hammering at an overhanging cliff or other dangerous location.

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9. Tides.

Trapping by tides is not common in Dorset, Hampshire or the Isle of Wight because of a limited tidal range. There is serious risk in Devon and Cornwall and the Bristol Channel area and elsewhere. Trapping can happen in the Kimmeridge area of Dorset. It is possible to be trapped eastward from Kimmeridge, particularly beyond Clavell's Hard (Rope Lake Head area) if you do not return before the tide rises. There can be tide problems immediately to the east of Lyme Regis (Church Cliffs), but the tide is usually not a major problem on the west side. The western side of Worbarrow Tout (the gypsum exposure) can be difficult of access with high tides, particularly in stormy weather. There is a steep path up the cliff, which might be used in emergency, but it is not recommended. Bats Head normally prevents access to the bay to west. At low tide it is sometimes possible to wade round but this is not recommended. A rising tide may prevent return and swimming round is certainly not advised. It is possible to be trapped by the tide at Culver Cliff between Whitecliff Bay and Sandown on the Isle of Wight.

The tidal range at Portland is 1.9 metres at springs and 0.7 metres at neaps (House, 1993). Tides at Lyme Regis are half an hour earlier than on Portland. At Swanage they are 90 minutes later than on Portland.

Precautions: Check tides when going to critical areas (see Admiralty Tide Tables). Be aware that in certain places (eg. southwest England, Britanny, South Wales), this can be a major danger (Jones, 2000). Accidents can occur because people try to climb dangerous cliffs when trapped by the tide. Low tide is beneficial in exposing shore ledges for safe study.

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10. Washing of Persons into the Sea - General

Although there is greater risk of this in other regions, such as Cornwall, there is risk of being washed into the sea from some low rock ledges or from exposed beaches in Dorset or Hampshire during storms. Ledges on the Portland Stone coast of Portland and the Isle of Purbeck and the Chalk ledges at Culver Cliff could be hazardous in very stormy weather. Rock climbers have been killed by being swept off Portland Stone ledges in this region.

Precautions: Assess the sea conditions. Do not go down to low limestone ledges near the sea in stormy weather. Because Chesil Beach pebbles are usually best examined when wet, near the sea, but parties should not descend low on the beach except in very quiet conditions. The pebbles are washed back with the retreating wave and there is a very dangerous undertow here. Note also that exceptionally large waves may sometimes hit the Chesil Beach.

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Washing of Persons into the Sea - Reports

[Footnote re safety: On the 3rd November 2013, a tragic accident occurred here. The following brief report is from The Telegraph Newspaper online, article by Sam Marsden and Agencies. It provides in effect a warning of the dangers of proceeding over the rocks down near sea-level. Do not go down to the low ledges unless the conditions are very calm and safe. There is little need to do so for geological purposes.
Woman Trapped by Rising Waters Dies in Sea Cave.
"A woman died after becoming trapped by rising waters in a tiny sea cave as rescuers desperately tried to reach her. Coastguards spent two hours talking to the 30-year-old climber through a 15ft deep blowhole on top while lifeboat crews attempted to get to her through an opening at the front of the cliffs as 10ft waves crashed on the rocks. Eventually a courageous member of the rescue team managed to squeeze down through the 1.5ft wide blowhole against pounding sea spray, but when he got into the cave he found she was dead. The tragedy unfolded at a beauty spot known as Tilly Whim caves, near Swanage, Dorset, while the woman and her 31-year-old brother were "coasteering", an adventure sport that involves climbing along a rock face before jumping into the sea. A member of the public raised the alarm after spotting the brother in difficulty in the water at just before 3pm on Saturday, when much of the country was battered by storms and heavy rain." The coastguard helicopter rescued the man, who at that point told the crew that his sister had been trapped in the cave by the powerful waves. Coastguards climbed down to the cave while the Swanage lifeboat approached from the water in 50mph winds that whipped up a 10ft sea swell. Dave Turnbull, of the Swanage lifeboat, said: "The woman had been washed into a small cave at the base of the cliffs that had a blowhole at the top that wasn't very accessible." "The helicopter winchman got into a position where he could talk to her through the gap. She seemed to be out of the water but there was no way we could reach her. "As the tide rose, many further attempts to reach her were made but the rough conditions, with the tide rising and seas breaking over the heads of the rescuers at times, proved impossible to overcome. "With the tide getting higher another coastguard officer entered through the blowhole but found the woman had sadly succumbed to the conditions. It was very sad and a truly awful situation to have been in." A Portland coastguard spokesman the coastguard officer who crawled down through the hole had placed himself in great peril. She said: "The hole was just about wide enough for one person to fit in and it was 15ft deep. The officer knew the dangers and made the decision to go into the gap. "The water was charging in through the cave practically filling it up and then shooting up the hole, pushing the officer back up. "The casualty had been communicating but unfortunately she was found to be deceased when the officer entered the cave."[continues - see the article. There are also other newspaper reports online of about this date.]

Two boys have been washed into the sea and drowned at Lulworth Cove in the past. They were apparently watching a storm from the western promontory of the Cove.

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11. Falling from a Cliff (and Problems of Fog).

Major falls from cliffs are uncommon with field parties on standard routes but is a potential risk with adventurous, exploring individuals. Geologists scrambling up small banks and cliffs to study the strata are prone to minor falls which may cause minor injury, such as broken bones and cuts. Fog may be a hazard on cliff tops, as low cloud occasionally occurs. Low cloud or fog may have been involved in some accidents on mountains (see Teeman, 1993 and other references ). (See also more about mountains below in section 18). In fog it is important to keep clear of the cliff edge in the White Nothe to Lulworth area with high chalk cliffs and truncated valleys. Care would also be needed on the Kimmeridge cliff tops, Gad Cliff, the cliffs from Durlston Head to St. Aldhelm's Head and the Ballard Cliff and Harry Rocks area. It would be necessary to keep to well-defined footpaths if on cliff tops in low-cloud or fog.

Precautions: Do not climb. Almost all suitable routes up and down the cliffs of Dorset are clear and well-worn footpaths (although they may not all be official ones). Where there is no path or only a slight sign of one there is usually no safe route (the Dorset coast is well-trodden and well-explored!). Certainly avoid ascending cliffs off paths. Do not climb steep chalk because it will give way sooner or later in your hand and so too will grass on steep chalk. Take care near cliff edges, particular chalk edges which can overhang, and particularly in strong or gusting winds.

First aid equipment may be needed for minor injuries which result from individuals slipping from low cliffs and rocks in the course of general geological scrambling around to get at exposures.

The edge of Chalk cliffs in the Durdle Door, Bats Head and White Nothe area are very abrupt and a slip would be fatal. The same applies to the Chalk cliffs at Studland, Harry Rocks, Ballard Cliff etc. (and similarly on the Isle of Wight). See the bibliography for various records. )

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12. Snake bites.

Adder at Seacombe Bottom

Warnings about adders are given in some older Dorset geological literature (Arkell, 1935) and leg protection recommended for some places (Stonebarrow Hill, St Alban's Head). Arkell commented It should be noted that the luxuriant undergrowth and grass here and at St. Albans and Gad Cliff harbour abundant adders. They are common enough to be dangerous unless gaiters are worn." Adders are common on the Studland peninsula, above Dungy Head and have been seen at Seacombe and elsewhere. Adders have been seen at East Over near the Fossil Forest gate. Fortunately, snake bites are rare, although the odd case has been encountered (a fossil collector was bitten at Highcliffe in the 1950s, and children in the region have been bitten (Walker, 2000) .

Precautions: Although adders are sometimes seen in the grass or on footpaths bites are very rare. If you do not disturb them they will not normally attack. Look out for them on rough ground. Hospital treatment (anti-venom serum) will be needed in the case of an adder bite, although they are not usually fatal in the case of a healthy adult.

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13. Explosion of old shells, mines etc

Precautions: In the Lulworth Ranges, and possibly in other places (used in the past for military activity) unexploded shells etc might be found on rare occasions. In the Ranges please follow the rules on notice boards with regard to access and hazards. In any place it is obviously that one should not in any way interfere with suspicious metal objects and it is important to see that any students present do not. Although fortunately very rarely, there have been accidents with explosives in the past, near Lulworth (involving fossil collectors in a small chalk quarry at Whiteways Hill) and possibly at Studland (uncofirmed). Please report the presence of suspicious objects to the authorities.

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14. Risk to students working alone.

Students working alone abroad have had accidents without obtaining the help needed. There have also been attacks on students working alone in other parts of the UK. In the 1980s and before most students carried out field work such as Independent Mapping alone and the complete independence of it was regarded as very good training. During the 1990s (and earlier at some places) potential risks were reduced, as paired mapping or other paired field work progressively replaced field work by individual students (Go back to top

15. Marine activities - boats, swimming and diving etc.

There are special problems with such activities. They have their own safety procedures and not discussed in detail here. Dangers of students swimming round headlands, swimming at night or with alcohol may be rare but are very serious. Attention should be paid to whatever safety procedures and regulation apply to marine activities. There has recently been a serious canoeing accident in Lyme Bay , but this was not connected with geology. It has raised questions about safety in outdoor activities.

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16. Mines, Adits, Caves etc.

Please keep out of mines, adits and caves when doing geological fieldwork. Caving in the caves of Portland requires correct caving equipment and is not undertaken alone. There was rescue of a caver from caves at Blacknor Portland in 1975. The caver was taken to hospital by a helicopter from Portland's Royal Naval Air Station (Morris, 1990).

Adits for Kimmeridge oil-shale are more dangerous than limestone workings. The only one with any access at Clavell's Hard, near Kimmeridge is now difficult to get to. The roof is unsafe, large slabs of shale may fall and no-one should enter it.

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17. Precautions at Quarries

Quarries take groups entirely at the visitors' risk and will not accept any responsibility whatsoever for accidents (Copland and Overton, 1976). Quarries may insist that the visitors present an appropriate insurance certificate. Dangers exist from stone falls, stone chips, moving vehicles, unroped loads and site plant. A quarry accident elsewhere in the country is reported by Prior (1999).

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18. Stream Beds

Stream beds on the south coast are not usually places of high risk. In exception weather conditions they may become dangerous. They are often a hazard in mountainous and desert terrains because of flash floods or just fast water flow. There have been several accidents in stream beds to parties of adults and children; some of these have been adventure parties but accidents of this type have also happened to geologists.

Two accidents involving school parties have occurred recently. One of these was the drowning of two Leeds schoolgirls on a "river walk" in a beck in the Yorkshire Dales. The other was the drowning of a boy in a Lake District beck during a school adventure trip (Wainwright and Smithers, 2002).

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Additional to South Coast Safety - Mapping on Mountains and Elsewhere

This has little direct relevance to Dorset but is mentioned briefly, mostly with regard to other areas, for completeness. Nothing stated here is meant to be more than informal guidance to improve safety and students and supervisors should clearly the safety rules of the particular organisation.

The author has been supervising Independent Mapping in the Catalan Pyrenees, English Lake District and even in Dorset, over many years. Normally this is relatively safe with, at most, some cuts and bruises from minor scrapes and tumbles, even though hundreds of students have done it. The risk of a major accident always exists, however. Carrying out risk assessments, using paired mapping (Teeman, 1993) and seeing that students follow safety rules must certainly help reduce accidents. The nature of the work and its duration as an independent study for several weeks, means, unfortunately, that the chance of a disastrous accident is always there, and this is a worrying matter for supervisors. Reference to the select bibliographies , both with regard to the Internet and to publications (Teeman, 1993) will show that fatal and serious accidents have on occasions happened to students undertaking geological mapping.

Any work on mountains should comply with the usual rules of mountain safety and the normal items for safe mountain walking should be taken. These would include waterproof clothing, compass, map, torch, emergency items for hypothermia, first aid kit, water and food and, if possible, mobile phone. As is normal for safety on mountains, students would be in pairs. In geological mapping rock-climbing with ropes does not normally take place (although it might in exceptional circumstances), the limits usually being an easy scramble. In other words the mountains are normally traversed in the way that a hill-walker or fell-walker would, not a rock-climber. A hazard is that although students may set out with only this in mind, they may become more adventurous and tackle a slope that steepens dangerously and gets them into difficulty. They need warnings not to do this.

Useful ways of reducing (but never, of course, totally eliminating) the hazard are:
1. The supervisor can choose the individual mapping areas carefully, avoiding as far as possible particularly difficult territory. Geological factors, the amount of exposure and distance from camp site will also have to come into this selection, though, so that it is inevitably a compromise.
2. During a risk assessment in the field at the start of the work, preferably with the supervisor, specific cliffs, precipices, very steep slopes etc. can be assessed as "inaccessible". The student in due course marks them on the map in this manner, and confines work on these to distant sketches and notes, without going onto the dangerous territory. This has been used successfully in the Pyrenees for many years, although it should always be remembered that an accident can happen at a small and innocuous road-cut, an easily accessible dry stream bed or even on the camp site.

The full list of safety warnings is not given here and normally has to be tailored to the particular area that the students are mapping. Students are normally given verbal and written warnings. Of the various risks, waterfalls are slippery and hazardous, stream beds have the danger of flash floods. Hypothermia is a risk. In Britain, a particular problem exists in the form of rapidly changing weather conditions and the development of low cloud. Many British mountains have an easy footpath up them, finishing at a dome-like summit of bare rock. When descending in good weather is normally easy to find the correct route. If low cloud or fog appears there may be no obvious indication as to which smooth slope of the summit leads to the footpath and which steepens progressively to a cliff. Compass and map may help but not easily solve the problem. There might be difficulty in finding a safe route, of course, other than on the summit. It is better not to map in such conditions. Students, however, may be in a hurry to complete their mapping and not to loose time. It is better that only time is lost.

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Scientific societies organising field trips often take out group insurance regarding Third Party and Public Indemnity. They may also provide Personal Accident Cover. Individuals may already have some insurance policy which covers them for field work; an organisation by whom they are employed may provide them with cover. Nowadays, if you are organising a field trip, it is sensible to arrange for yourself to have Third Party, Public Indemnity and ideally Personal Accident Cover, and to see that there is adequate cover for members of the party. A society such as the Geologists' Association, which runs many field trips, might be able to provide you with further information.

Students doing field work abroad will need suitable insurance cover. British students in mainland Europe need an E111 form for free medical treatment.

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First Aid and the Health and Safety Executive

Persons leading field trips are nowadays often registered First-Aiders of the Health and Safety Executive . Suitable first-aid kits should be taken on field work. The First Aid Manual of the Voluntary Aid Societies is the authorised manual for first-aid in the UK and should be studied. Information on reporting of accidents regarding schools and a short bibliograpy regarding HSE and educational establishments is provided in a HSE website .

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It must be emphasised again - the points given here are only guidance and suggestions, not official rules. Visitors to the coast are responsible for their own safety. It is expected that leaders of field trip groups will have their own safety rules to deal with the above risks and any others perceived. They should undertake a risk assessment and inform participants of possible risks and of safety procedures They should see that suitable warm and waterproof clothing, sturdy footware, safety helmets and first-aid kits are taken and refuse to allow ill-equipped persons on their field courses. Large parties need adequate staff and some sort of patrolling by staff is needed if students are working on projects in a dispersed pattern.

It should be noted that the international distress signal is 6 whistle blasts, torch flashes, shouts or waves of a bright coloured cloth with a gap of 1 minute between each repetition. Acknowledgement of this signal is 3 whistle blasts etc.

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Copyright © 2013 Ian West, Catherine West, Tonya Loades and Joanna Bentley. All rights reserved. This is a purely academic website and images and text may not be copied for publication or for use on other webpages or for any commercial activity. A reasonable number of images and some text may be used for non-commercial academic purposes, including field trip handouts, lectures, student projects, dissertations etc, providing source is acknowledged.

Disclaimer: Geological fieldwork involves some level of risk, which can be reduced by knowledge, experience and appropriate safety precautions. Persons undertaking field work should assess the risk, as far as possible, in accordance with weather, conditions on the day and the type of persons involved. In providing field guides on the Internet no person is advised here to undertake geological field work in any way that might involve them in unreasonable risk from cliffs, ledges, rocks, sea or other causes. Not all places need be visited and the descriptions and photographs here can be used as an alternative to visiting. Individuals and leaders should take appropriate safety precautions, and in bad conditions be prepared to cancell part or all of the field trip if necessary. Permission should be sought for entry into private land and no damage should take place. Attention should be paid to weather warnings, local warnings and danger signs. No liability for death, injury, damage to, or loss of property in connection with a field trip is accepted by providing these websites of geological information. Discussion of geological and geomorphological features, coast erosion, coastal retreat, storm surges etc are given here for academic and educational purposes only. They are not intended for assessment of risk to property or to life. No liability is accepted if this website is used beyond its academic purposes in attempting to determine measures of risk to life or property.

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Dr Ian West, author of these webpages

Webpage - written and produced by:

Ian West, M.Sc. Ph.D. F.G.S.


at his private address, Romsey, Hampshire, kindly supported by Southampton University,and web-hosted by courtesy of iSolutions of Southampton University. The website does not necessarily represent the views of Southampton University. The website is written privately from home in Romsey, unfunded and with no staff other than the author, but generously and freely published by Southampton University. Field trips shown in photographs do not necessarily have any connection with Southampton University and may have been private or have been run by various organisations.