Field Safety (Click here for PDF of entire field safety guide)

Preferred Practices for Safe Teaching and Research in the Field 

Included in this manual are guidelines and resources to build your skills to teach and lead safe successful field classes and research trips. All of the content here focuses on risk management issues that are relevant in a field setting. This resource is most relevant for California-based UCSC field courses, but it also contains many resources for other UC field excursions, including international courses and research expeditions. This manual is not a comprehensive reference for how to lead great research expeditions or field classes. It is also a “best practices” document and is meant mainly as a reference. However, in many places, this manual does refer to actual UC policies and state/federal laws. The amount of resources you use in this manual will depend on the scope of your trip and your past experience leading field groups. It is divided into 5 chapters with an appendix of additional resources. Relevant portions of it can be printed and carried in the field. This is a developing resource that contains contributions from many faculty and staff at multiple UCs. It was created in collaboration with the University of California Field Safety Program, a new initiative spearheaded by Sara Souza ( at UC Berkeley. In the future, training opportunities may accompany this manual. Continuing feedback on this manual can be directed to Chris Lay,, administrative director of the Kenneth S. Norris Center for Natural History at UCSC.


Risk, embracing the possibility of loss or injury, is integral to experiential learning and is inherent in the field environments where we teach and do research.  Any field instructor or researcher must also be an effective risk manager, one who understands and anticipates risks and acts appropriately to reduce the likelihood of negative consequences. Accidents often result from a combination of challenging conditions, inadequate preparation, and poor communication. For this reason, an effective risk manager must incorporate many attributes of excellent leadership, including preparation, competency, effective communication, appropriate judgment & decision-making, self and group awareness, and tolerance for adversity and uncertainty (adapted from the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) Leadership Educator Notebook).

This resource is organized into the following sections:

Chapter 1: Preparation

Assembling comprehensive Field Safety Plans

Important Equipment to bring with you

Forms and other paperwork you might want to carry in the field

Communicating with Participants beforehand

Links to more resources

Appendix: Forms and Other Paperwork

Chapter 2: Competency

Wilderness First Aid

(Outdoor) Leadership Skills

Basic Outdoor Skills

Leave No Trace Skills

Field-specific Skills

Emergency/ Evacuation Plans

Appendix: Cheat-sheets for Managing Common Field Hazards

Chapter 3: Risk Assessment and Action

Evaluating the “Accident Potential”

Developing conservative judgement

Using the Risk equation: Risk = Likelihood * Consequences

Facilitating safe group decision-making

Chapter 4: Effective Communication

Set the Tone for a Safe Learning Environment with co-instructors and students

Establish and maintain reasonable goals, roles, expectations/behavioral norms

Brief your team often

Practice active listening

Address issues that come up (resolving conflict)

Chapter 5: Student/Participant Issues

Managing Student Behavior in the Field- Student Behavioral Contracts

UCSC Programs/Centers to help with various student Issues

Links to Detailed Resources for specific student issues

Appendix of Handouts