Field Work Planning Guidelines

All field work defined as having significant risk requires completion of the Field Work Risk Management Form and approval of the Department Head/Chair/Director and the Safety Office.

The following guidelines outlined on this page are designed to assist with risk assessment and planning:


It is important to recognize that while insurance is necessary and of great benefit to individuals and organizations, it is a secondary risk mitigation measure in the event that an unplanned incident occurs. Insurance shall not be relied upon in place of adequate risk assessment and mitigation in Field Work. 

International travel

Waterloo International maintains the Safety Abroad program to prepare travelers for risks present in the locations to which they are travelling. All travelers are expected to adequately prepare for travel and advise Waterloo International of their travel plans, complete training and adhere to travel risk mitigation precautions. The Field Work Risk Management form asks supervisors to acknowledge that they have completed the travel risk management protocols involved in international Field Work.

Other travel

Risks associated with domestic and local travel should be identified and assessed as part of the risk assessment portion of the form.

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Insurance information relevant to field work

The University has a broad insurance program that covers University property against accidental loss or damage and provides protection to all members of the University against third party liability claims arising from university related activities. While planning to conduct Field Work, insurance needs and coverage should be reviewed to ensure adequate coverage is in place while off-campus. This includes ensuring that students have Canadian or equivalent health care coverage, plus travel coverage.

Supervisors should review the relevant insurance policies on the Finance website pertaining to the activities being performed and contact the Finance department to arrange for additional insurance if required.

Special insurance issues

Certain off-campus situations require special insurance arrangements. The following is a list of some special cases:

  • Use of aircraft: when leasing or chartering aircraft special liability policies may need to be arranged. Confirm with the charter company or partner/sponsor as to what is included or additionally required.
  • War zones: insurance policies generally have exclusions in some form regarding war risks, political insurrection, terrorism, etc., which requires special policies to be put in place. Insurance may not always be available or may be prohibitively expensive.
  • Marine research: trips involving ocean-going activities necessitate special handling.
  • Extreme activities: insurance policies may have exclusions regarding certain high-risk activities (e.g., SCUBA diving, mountain climbing), and special coverage may need to be arranged.
  • Remote/backcountry medical evacuation: Search and rescue, in Canada, and the US, is a volunteer service that may be free, depending on the local authorities. However for other situations, determine if additional insurance in the event of a necessary medical evacuation by helicopter is necessary. Please contact Finance (Insurance) to verify coverage.
  • Remote equipment (e.g. underwater, left in field, etc.) may not be covered – special insurance may need to be arranged. Please contact Finance (Insurance) to verify coverage.

Continuance of employee health insurance coverage while traveling

  1. Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP): Individuals are generally covered by the provincial health-care plan (OHIP) while travelling within Canada with a valid OHIP card. Employees are covered by the University’s group health benefits for out of country medical expenses or extended health coverage for medically necessary services or supplies. Don’t leave home without your out-of-country coverage card information and contact the insurance provider in the event of any medical emergency.  Individuals who opt out of University health plans (student or employee) are responsible for arranging for their own personal travel health insurance coverage.
  2. University Health Insurance Plan (UHIP): Coverage While Outside of Ontario and/or Canada

An employee who does not qualify for OHIP coverage should contact Human Resources, as it may be possible to apply for coverage through UHIP.

Workplace Safety and Insurance Board Benefits (WSIB)

Employees of the University are covered by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) for injuries arising in the course of their employment. All injuries resulting in the need for medical treatment, or which result in the person being unable to work for more than the day on which the injury occurred, must be reported to the WSIB within three working days of the incident occurring.

WSIB only applies to individuals who are being paid by the University as an employee, and only for injuries sustained while working. WSIB coverage does not apply to undergraduate students, graduate students paid via scholarship or studentship, student research assistants or postdoctoral fellows who receive payment for their work directly from an external source, or volunteers.

Field Work trips of greater than 6 months (with no returns to Ontario) require special application to the WSIB to obtain extended coverage. As soon as the dates during which the employee will be out of Ontario are known, the Department/Unit Head or designate must contact the Director of Safety, providing the destination departure date, return date, list of all personnel involved in the trip and their occupations. Requests for extended coverage must be made at least four weeks prior to departure.

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Field site hazards

All hazards and controls must be included in the Job Hazard Analysis attached to the Field Work Risk Management Form for approval.

Depending on the locale of the planned Field Work, hazards may be present that are directly or indirectly related to the work itself. It is important to be aware of these types of hazards to avoid any unexpected emergencies. The following must be considered prior to each excursion:

  • Identify potential hazards related to location – these could include altitude, climate extremes, wildlife, weather emergencies (e.g. tornado, hurricane), insects, endemic disease, heights, rough terrain, work on/near water, etc. Obtain credible and relevant information from local resources or someone who has visited the area/site before, and ensure that adequate and appropriate training is provided.
  • In sites where wildlife may be encountered, participants should be provided with Wildlife Awareness Training (suitable for most northern Ontario/Canada environments), as well as information specific to the locale and wildlife at the field site.
  • Develop work and emergency plans to avoid and manage these risks
  • Ensure that first aid kit is adequate for the locale, and that first aiders are adequately trained. The level of first aid training should be determined by the site and available first aid and medical accessibility. In some cases, Wilderness First Aid may be applicable, necessitating that individuals complete the 20-hour training requirement and the requisite first aid kit prepared. This training is not provided by the University and must be arranged by the Field Work Supervisor.
  • Consult with local officials and field site contacts about wildlife management, site access control, etc.
  • If access to an organization’s site is involved (e.g. mine, construction, industrial site), ensure that all required training, personal protective equipment and security requirements are in order prior to arrival at the site.

Equipment considerations

  • Safe Operating Procedures must be established and documented where there is risk of equipment causing injury.
  • Ensure that all equipment, including vehicles that will be used in Field Work are certified as safe by a competent person. Breakdowns of equipment should be reported to the Field Work Supervisor and appropriate lockout/tagout procedures should be followed, if applicable. All breakdowns should be addressed prior to putting equipment back into use.
  • All drivers and boat operators must provide proof of the appropriate license to operate any vehicle (on or off-road) or watercraft, including those owned by the University.
  • Determine what repair equipment, tools and critical replacement parts that may not be available in the field and need to be taken.
  • Firearms may be a requirement for protection from dangerous wildlife in the field. The purchase, storage and handling of firearms is regulated by the federal government through the Firearms Act. All persons handling firearms shall have a valid Firearms Acquisition Certificate (FAC), shall comply with the Act, and shall report ownership UW Police when purchased for work-related purposes. Firearms are not permitted on campus, except under the conditions outlined in Policy #35 - Firearms. Conversely, a qualified guide may need to be hired to facilitate this need.

Clothing and personal protective equipment

  • All participants must be advised as to appropriate clothing to the locale and elements, and personal protective equipment (PPE) requirements determined. Some basic requirements:
    • Industrial, underground, mining sites, open pits, or work with saws or axes - Safety boots with steel toe and/or shank protection dependent on-site hazards. Boots must lace up over the ankle.
    • Personal flotation devices (PFD’s)/lifejackets – working on or near water
    • Hiking/mountain climbing – sturdy hiking boots with good tread and ankle support
    • Safety glasses – if particulate, chemical or flying debris hazards present
    • Respiratory protection
    • Spare eyeglasses
    • Sunglasses with sturdy frame, rigid case and lenses that provide good UV protection – for work in sun, on the water or in snow.
    • Hearing protection – if noise hazards present
    • Hard hats/helmets – if overhead obstruction or falling hazards present or as part of fall protection (e.g. mountain climbing)
    • Bug jacket and headnet/mosquito net
    • Bear spray/bells/bangers


  • The Field Work Supervisor must leave an itinerary and communications plan with the Department Head/Chair. Contact should be made at agreed-upon intervals with field work participants and a specified contact persons on campus. Contacts at the University and elsewhere must be informed about the location and expected duration of the trip, how to contact participants and leaders, the planned time of return and at what time after this an alarm will be raised. Maps and plans showing the locations and the circumstances of the field work (e.g. the registration numbers of vehicles, or boats, the place where boats are to be launched) shall be given to appropriate University contacts.
  • During a field activity, the contact person must be notified as soon as possible of any changes to the originally proposed itinerary or schedule, including changes of dates, location or number of persons attending the field activity.  If the changes cause a follow-on effect to the existing risk assessment, then a revised risk assessment must be prepared.
  • For remote locations, assurance of mobile network coverage must be determined for all locations where Field Work will be occurring. In the event that regular mobile coverage is insufficient, satellite phones or devices (e.g. SPOT check-in devices, Garmin inReach) or radio systems must be obtained. The ability to signal for help both within the group and to external parties (e.g. emergency services) is a must. Local contacts should be advised of expected arrival/departure times from remote or hazardous field sites. Contact with local emergency responders should be established. In some regions, registration and assistance is available through park stations.
  • Ensure that adequate battery life and backup power is available for all communication and signaling devices.
  • Even with the best communication equipment, there may be times when the worker is rendered incapable of using it. The communication system must include regular contact established at intervals appropriate to the nature of the hazard associated with the work.
  • Ensure that GPS devices are operational, and maps are available in the area where remote Field Work is planned.
  • Field Work Supervisors and all workers must follow the Working Alone Guideline, including a heightened consideration for remote locations and access to assistance or emergency services.  Based on a level of risk, working alone may not be permitted, and Working Alone plans must be established and carried out as required.
  • For researchers working independently, a check-in procedure must be established with the Supervisor or delegate (i.e. Leader, someone appointed on campus, or a site contact who has their own established check-in). The check-in delegate should be available during the entire time the researcher is in the field.  The delegate may be a responsible family member/spouse who agrees to notify the Supervisor immediately in a researcher fails to check in. Researchers must notify a specified contact person (e.g., their Supervisor) on return from field activity.  If a researcher fails to return from a field activity at the pre-arranged time and has not notified a change in arrangements, the specified contact person is responsible for notifying a Department/Unit representative (e.g. Department Head/Chair), who is then responsible for notifying emergency services as applicable and next of kin.

Emergency preparedness

  • A list of emergency numbers (as applicable) should be provided to all participants including:
    • Supervisor and Field Work Leader contact information
    • local emergency numbers
    • nearest Canadian embassy (international locations)
    • UW Campus Police (519-888-4911)
    • transportation provider
  • When warranted, a local guide should be hired for remote locations (backwoods/trail systems) that are unfamiliar. Consideration should be given to personal locator beacons if an experienced guide is not used.
  • All Field Work of significant risk requires a minimum of one (1) trained first aider having Standard First Aid training and a first aid kit as outlined in the First Aid Program. Where location or hazards necessitate, for example when participant groups may be separated, ensure that at least two (2) participants are trained in first aid. For wilderness or isolated settings where emergency response may be delayed, it is highly recommended that Field Work Supervisors and/or participants be certified in Advanced Wilderness & Remote First Aid, unless emergency services are provided by a site host or guide. Field Work Supervisors are responsible for sourcing this training as required for their group.
  • When warranted, ensure a supply of emergency food and water is available.
  • Consider the need to facilitate a medical evacuation. You should know and document in the Field Work Risk Management Form:
    • Who to contact for a medical evacuation
    • Location of nearest medical facility to which evacuation would proceed; and
    • Who to contact for medical advice and to advise of your arrival
    • Whether medical evacuation is covered by insurance
  • Medical conditions of participants that could impact the safety of the participant or the group should be communicated to the Field Work Supervisor prior to departure.

Environmental considerations

Careful practices must be planned to protect the natural and cultural environment. These include the following:

  • Water: Prevention of spills or contamination to surface or groundwater. If the work specifically involves planned spills or introduction of materials, remediation plans must be in place and approved by the owner of the property and appropriate natural resources regulatory bodies.
  • Vegetation: Unless required and permitted for the purposes of the field activity, avoid disturbing or cutting vegetation, which could result in erosion and/or affect the feeding or nesting of habits of animal wildlife.
  • Wildlife: Avoid disturbance of nesting, feeding or migration of animal wildlife. Contact local natural resources regulatory bodies for specific information.
  • Aquatic life: Consider noise and boat speed effects on aquatic life. Abide by federal and provincial fishing laws.
  • Erosion: Avoid the creation of surface conditions that can change the rate and pattern of erosion.
  • Air: Avoid generating contaminants or noise that may adversely impact wildlife or humans in the area.
  • Waste: Ensure that all waste materials are appropriately removed and disposed of from any field site. Report any spill to the local municipal and provincial regulatory body, the property owner, and the Safety Office. The transportation and use of hazardous materials may present risks – contact the Environmental Safety Facility (Safety Office) for assistance.
  • Cultural and subsistence: Be respectful of local/indigenous customs, traditions, laws and religious beliefs. Communicating with area residents can often minimize concerns.
  • Archeological: archeological sites are of historical and cultural significance – if a suspected site is discovered, do not proceed and contact the proper authorities. 

Health considerations and immunizations

  • For international Field Work, follow the guidelines available on the Waterloo International website and ensure that vaccinations are up to date and prophylactic measure are taken where appropriate.
  • Identify potential health hazards related to locale, field site or specific research/sampling tasks (e.g. contact with contaminated water or animal droppings). Conduct a risk assessment and identify controls for water, food, insect or blood-borne diseases, or zoonotic disease. Immunizations or prophylactic measures may be indicated.
  • If the activity requires heavy exertion or is highly strenuous, occurs at altitude or in adverse environments, a pre-departure medical examination is recommended. This is especially important for participants with existing medical conditions that may be exacerbated by the activity. Considerations related to medication administration, or access to medical care should be considered in planning for anyone with medical conditions. Participants should be advised to consult with their family physician.  
  • Prevention for bites and stings:
    • Mosquitos and black flies: wear loose-fitting, light coloured clothing with long sleeves and high collars, and hats with mosquito netting. Repellents that contain 30% DEET are most effective.
    • Ticks: ticks may carry Lyme disease, spread through feeding on both animal and human populations and prevention is critical due to the chronic and serious nature of the disease. Field work Supervisors should be aware of the potential for Lyme disease in the geographic areas where work is planned and take preventive actions accordingly. More information is available by province.
    • Stings: stings can be prevented by observing work areas for bees, wasps or hornets (buildings, trees, etc.) prior to disturbing them. Stings can cause allergic reactions, the most serious being anaphylaxis, which requires immediate medical attention and if available epinephrine. Any participants with this type of allergy exposed to this potential hazard must notify the Field Work supervisor and carry an Epi-Pen at all times. 
    • Rabies: if working around potentially infected species or their carcasses (potential for bite, contamination through open wound, abrasion or mucous membranes), participants should discuss obtaining pre-exposure rabies vaccination with their family physician.  

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Special permits and licenses

  • Ethics clearance is required for all human participant and animal research – this extends to Field Work as applicable.
  • Permitting and licensing requirements related to work with biohazardous or radioactive materials or controlled goods must be adhered to while in the field and transportation approvals/considerations addressed.
  • Hazardous materials must be transported in accordance with Transportation of Dangerous Goods (TDG) regulations.
  • Use of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) or drones falls under the jurisdiction of the federal government in Canada. See Transport Canada’s guidelines under the Canadian Aviation Regulations for licensing requirements. You must also obtain permission from the property owner. Outside of Canada, consult with the relevant jurisdiction and property owner to determine required licensing, permissions and restrictions.
  • Licenses or permits may be required for ATVs, snowmobiles etc. Please check the requirements of the province or country.
  • Written permission must be provided when trips involve work on private or non-Crown land
  • Confirmation that any/all required permits are in place when trips involve work in Provincial or National parks.  

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Equity, diversity and accommodation

  • Supervisors should consider, in relation to the Field Work location and planned activities, that certain individuals may be vulnerable to prejudice and threats to physical and mental health and safety.
  • Supervisors should advise all participants to identify and discuss means of mitigation for those who are at-risk, including but not limited to race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, religious expression, or gender identity. Individuals can consult resources and supports from the Office of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion & Anti-Racism.
  • Supervisors should make themselves aware of risks that may be present in the area/country where the Field Work is occurring and consider measures to protect the safety of at-risk participants. 
  • Participants should be encouraged to discuss any disability or medical conditions (with the supervisor or Occupational Health/Accessibility Services, as preferred) that a supervisor should be aware of for the purposes of emergency assistance or accommodation. Participants need not disclose a diagnosis but should request accommodation specific to their limitations.
  • If personal protective equipment is being provided, consider diversity issues that may prevent a participant from using some traditional types of PPE (e.g. helmets, tight-fitting respirators) where head coverings or facial hair related to religious expression may require accommodation.
  • This guide is a helpful resource to gain awareness on Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Anti-Racism considerations in field work.

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  • Conduct a pre-departure check related to the field site. Determine if any weather, environmental or political/social/cultural issues may require additional precautionary measures to be taken. For example, occurring or forecasted drought, flooding or extreme temperatures could result in significant change to risk controls measures, scheduling or even cancellation of activities.
  • Ensure that all equipment is properly packed, particularly if travelling by air. Ensure that hazardous products are shipped appropriately in advance, and that hard copies of permits, chemical SDS, etc. are available. You must adhere to Transportation of Dangerous Goods and IATA Dangerous Goods Regulations (DGR) (for air transport).
  • Ensure that all participants are prepared. Conduct a pre-departure meeting to ensure that participants are well advised of hazards, expectations for equipment/clothing, etc. and that everyone is physical and mentally prepared for travel and work at the field site. A Pre-Departure Briefing template is available to assist Field Work Supervisors with preparing pertinent information for participants.


  • Conduct daily site and equipment checks, including personal protective equipment.
  • Meet with all participants daily to review activities for the day, new hazards, changes to work plans, etc.
  • Report and investigate any incidents, illnesses or injuries, including near misses using and according to the Incident & Investigation Report.

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