teaching notes 2 - reducing risks on field trips
Ref: T02

Using the environment for educational purposes is a well established practice, but the teacher or group leader has special responsibilities as regards safety, respect for the interests of others and the conservation of the areas used. This sheet is an introduction only and does not replace any guidelines provided by your school, the Local Education Authority or your group organisation. The following sources give more details:

• Organisation of Outdoor Studies and Visits from National Association for Environmental Education

• Safety in Outdoor Education Department of Education and Science, available from HMSO

• Education on National Nature Reserves: advice to group leaders from the Nature Conservancy Council

• County guidelines available from the education office

• Outdoor studies or environmental education adviser

• Special requirements given by your organisation if you are not a school group

• The local contacts mentioned in the CD


Proper planning, including a visit beforehand, good supervision and clear insructions for the group will ensure that there is little chance of any unforeseen incident occurring. Remember, the main purposes of fieldwork are to inspire, learn, do, experience and contemplate. Fieldwork should not be confused with outdoor activities that offer a physical challenge. There are unlikely to be any very hazardous situations to deal with, but leaders cannot afford to be complacent, especially when working in water environments. So:

• Visit the site beforehand to identify any potential problems

• Check the insurance requirements and any special safety procedures required by the school, Local Education Authority or group organisation

• Check if you need parental permission for the study

• Discuss the project with the group carefully and agree the standards of work and behaviour expected

• Ensure that the group comes properly clothed for the activity and the time of year. They should all bring dry socks and shoes to change into and a towel (see
T4 Teachers Notes - Organising Mini-beast Sampling Trips)

• Take a First Aid Kit to cope with any minor accidents and someone who knows how to use it

• Leave details of the fieldwork excursion with an appropriate person. Inform them when you leave and tell them when you expect to return

• At the site group members should work in pairs or small groups. A ratio of adults to young people of 1:15 is normal, but check the requirements to be sure. You may feel happier if there is one adult attached to each sampling group

• Check the depth of any water before venturing into it. Avoid steep banks, turbulent water, soft mud and places where it is impossible to see the bottom. Avoid swollen rivers or streams (see
T3 Teachers Notes - Safety First)

• Stay close to the bank

• Weils Disease - see Safety Extra! Below

• If in doubt, stay out!

• Report your return

N.B. Schools and other organisations must be responsible for their own insurance.



Attention is drawn to this disease which has received recent publicity. Weils disease is a bacterial infection carried in rats' urine which contaminates water and wet river banks. The bacteria does not survive for long in dry conditions. It can occur in any water, including swift streams and rivers, but the likelihood of becoming infected is greater from stagnant or slow-moving waterways. The disease itself is relatively rare, thus overall risk of contracting it is small. However, it can be a serious illness requiring hospital treatment and can lead to kidney or liver failure, and so it is important that all reasonable precautions to avoid infection should be taken.

Pupils who have engaged in water-based activities who fall ill with the symptoms, particularly from three to nineteen days following, should be urged to see their doctor immediately. The most common symptoms are a temperature, a flu-like illness and joint and muscle pains. The individual should inform his/her doctor of the activities in which he/she has been involved.

The following action is therefore recommended:

1. Activities where children are repeatedly immersed in stagnant or slow-moving water, should be avoided

2. Washing or showering after water-based activities is desirable

3. Minor scratches on exposed parts of the body should be covered with waterproof plasters. Any cuts or grazes sustained during activities in water should be immediately disinfected and covered by a waterproof plaster before re-exposure to the water (using disinfectant and dressings which must be taken to the activity site by the supervisor)

4. Footwear should be worn to avoid cutting feet

5. If staff or pupils develop a flu-like illness after water-based outdoor activities, they should consult their GP as early as possible

The precautionary measures detailed above will reduce the risk of infection to a degree where it is entirely acceptable.

General Health & Safety Guidelines

The following information has been compiled for teachers in preparation for field visits to rivers, streams, lakes and ponds as part of the Westcountry Rivers Trust education programme.

Field trips are safe and fun, but it is important that teachers/group leaders read this information before a visit, and pass on information to pupils.

Pupils remain in the care of the teacher during the visit. Pupils should also be aware that they have a responsibility to follow instructions to ensure their safety and the safety of those around them. We recommend that valuable belongings are not taken on visits, all materials should be provided, but bags containing packed lunch can be taken when necessary.

Health & Safety

The teacher or group leader should give a brief health and safety reminder before the fieldwork activities begin.

It is assumed that teachers have gained parental consent for all pupils attending a fieldtrip session prior to the visit and that teachers are aware of any special medical needs of individuals in the group.

The teacher should hold contact details concerning the nearest doctor, hospital and pharmacy to the site visited, in case of emergency.

Reducing the Risk
In the event of a fire the class should follow the teacher to the nearest point of safety. Lighting fires is not a part of the activities. Matches/lighters etc. should not be brought on the walk.
Activities are carried out near rivers, streams, lakes and ponds. Pupils should follow instructions carefully and not attempt to enter the water.
Dipping/Sampling activities
On some occasions pupils will need to sample rivers, streams, lakes or ponds for water life. When appropriate pupils may have the opportunity to enter small, slow moving streams and rivers to collect scuffle samples. This is only carried where it is safe to do so and not when there is a risk of the river being in spate.
Take great care when getting into/out vehicles and on roads, keep to paths
Slips and falls
Wear strong footwear with a good grip. Pupils are not required to walk on steep sloping riverbanks. Extra care should be taken after rainfall. On some sites pathways may not be distinct, everyone should take extra care where there are tree roots and uneven ground along a route.
Wear a hat and plenty of sun screen. Drink plenty of water and advise the leader/teacher if you are thirsty
Bring warm clothing suitable for outdoor activities (coats, wellies/boots, shower proof clothing). If someone gets cold tell the leader and get warmed up. Pupils should wear trousers and not shorts for visits.
It is advisable to leave animals alone. In areas of open access dog mess is a potential problem that pupils should be aware of.
Pupils and accompanying adults should let the group leader know if they have a condition that could affect their health and well being on the visit.
Open Access
Areas Some fieldtrips will take place in areas where there is open access for the general public. Pupils should be aware of, and respect other walkers or cyclists also using the footpath or bridle way. Pupils should follow instructions and not stray from the group. Teachers should be aware of issues relating to pupils’ personal safety in open access areas.