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Field Studies

Field studies are an integral part of the teaching and research activities undertaken across Ryerson University. Field study refers to research or educational activities conducted outside of the traditional classroom or laboratory setting. Some of the methods primarily used to carry out field studies are observations, interviews as well as activities involving the collection of data and samples.

Key resource

An overview of the google docField Studies Safety Program, external link is available to Ryerson students, faculty, and staff and provides more detailed information, guidelines and resources in identifying risks associated with the activities and tasks being performed in the field, or where the working environment could potentially limit assistance in an emergency situation, resulting in an injury or illness.

Potential risks associated with field studies

While conducting field studies comes with many advantages, carrying out some types of field work may come with hazards and risks. These risks are generally related to:

  • travel;
  • the environment and weather;
  • interacting with strangers or visiting unstable political areas;
  • working with animals or encountering wildlife; and
  • working alone or accessing remote locations, including transporting or moving research equipment for the intended activity.

There are broadly three categories of risk when conducting field studies, each with specific steps that supervisors and participants are required to follow.

Field studies are considered low risk when the activities or tasks do not pose significant risk of injury to the participants. This involves the field study activities being conducted in an off-site location where:

  • controls are readily in place for limiting exposure to hazards; and
  • access to emergency, health, and communication services are available in the event of an emergency.

What are the responsibilities of supervisors and participants?

  • Supervisors (e.g. departmental chairs, deans or directors, principal investigators (PI), activity leaders) are required to provide participants with the necessary information and tools required to ensure the field study is conducted in a safe manner.
  • Participants are required to familiarize themselves with the information provided by their supervisors and seek support when necessary.

Field studies are considered medium, high or extreme risk when typical controls become unavailable to participants while conducting field studies. These controls include but are not limited to, the loss of:

  • security;
  • communication devices or telecommunication services;
  • emergency services;
  • health services; and
  • engineering controls in facilities that limit exposure to hazardous conditions.

What are the responsibilities of supervisors and participants?

Before undertaking the field study:

  • Supervisors (e.g. departmental chairs, deans or directors, principal investigators (PI), activity leaders) are required to complete a Field Studies Risk Assessment to determine if the field study requires an activity plan.
  • Participants are required to partake in this process to complete the Field Study Risk Assessment and follow any developed activity plan.

Field Studies Risk Assessment

Supervisors (e.g. departmental chairs, deans or directors, principal investigators (PI), activity leaders) should follow these steps in order to conduct a Field Studies Risk Assessment for field studies that are considered medium, high or extreme risk.

Step 1

Determine the severity of the risk using reasonable judgement. This refers to the inherent risk of the activity/process without any controls in place. Severity levels range from 1 to 4 and each rating carries the following criteria:

Rating

Severity of risk levels

1

Insignificant: Minimal threat to health and safety

2

Minor: May cause minor injuries

3

Moderate: May cause severe injuries

4

Major: May result in disaster/death

Step 2

For those events that carry a severity of risk level from 2 to 4 (minor to major), evaluate all the control measures that will be taken to reduce the likelihood of the risk (may cause minor injuries, severe injuries or disaster/death). With all control measures in place, use reasonable judgement to determine the likelihood of the risk occurring (ranging from 1 to 4).

Rating

Likelihood level of the risk occurring 

1

Rare: There is a low probability of the hazard to occur

2

Possible: Hazard may occur at some time

3

Likely: A hazard will probably occur in most circumstances

4

Almost certain: A hazard can be expected

Step 3

Multiply the severity level (S) with the likelihood (L) to receive the risk level (RL). Identify the risk level based on the risk assessment matrix (S x L = RL).

Risk assessment matrix

The Risk Assessment Matrix is organized by likelihood of risk and severity of risk. A rating of 4 indicates extreme likelihood and severity of risk while a rating of 1 indicates low likelihood and severity of risk. Users can Identify the risk level based on the risk assessment matrix by multiplying the severity level (S) with the likelihood (L) to receive the risk level (RL).
Likelihood of risk - Level 4 Likelihood of risk - Level 3 Likelihood of risk - Level 2 Likelihood of risk - Level 1
Severity of risk - Level 4

Extreme

Extreme

High

Medium

Severity of risk - Level 3

Extreme

High

Medium

Low

Severity of risk - Level 2

High

Medium

Medium

Low

Severity of risk - Level 1

Medium

Low

Low

Low

Definitions of risk levels

Risk levels Definition
Extreme (red) These risks are very critical and must be addressed on a high priority basis. If possible, eliminate the risk completely.
High (orange) These risks are high and require immediate appropriate risk management strategies.
Medium (yellow) These risks pose a medium level threat and require appropriate risk management strategies.
Low (green) These risks usually do not pose a significant problem and should not lead to injury/illness. However, if control measures can be implemented to further reduce these risks, they should be taken.

Example of how to use the risk assessment matrix

Hazard: Bear attack

  • The severity of the hazard is moderate to major as a bear attack can cause severe injuries (considered a value of 3 or 4). 
  • The likelihood of being attacked by a bear is deemed unlikely since the following controls are in place:
    • the camp is surrounded by an electric bear fence;
    • food is stored away from campsite; and 
    • locations of recent bear activity are avoided (considered a likelihood of 1).

Therefore, S x L will give a risk level of 3 or 4 and from the risk assessment matrix. This presents a low to medium level of risk for a bear attack or encounter.

To err on the side of caution, consider the hazard a medium risk and prepare a Field Study Activity Plan.

Complete the google sheetField Studies Risk Assessment, external link

Environmental Health and Safety at Ryerson is committed to accessibility for persons with disabilities. If you require this document in an alternative format, please get in touch with your department’s EHS contact.

Conducting field studies that are medium, high or extreme risk require a Field Studies Activity Plan

A Field Study Activity Plan must be developed to ensure a safe and productive experience for all participants. Field study participants must be clearly aware of the hazards and risks specific to their activity and location, and be equipped with all the necessary tools to address the unavailability of controls that are commonly available to them in typical lab, workshop and classroom settings. 

What are the responsibilities of supervisors and participants?

  • Supervisors (e.g. departmental chairs, deans or directors, principal investigators (PI), activity leaders) are required to complete a Field Study Activity Plan template to establish:
    • training requirements for all participants in accordance with the criteria outlined in the plan. Records of such instruction or training must be documented and retained on file with the respective supervisor;
    • travel requirements (e.g. insurance for travel and health, immunizations, etc.);
    • control measures needed to mitigate hazards;
    • communication methodologies (including check-in procedures and buddy systems);
    • necessary Personal Protective Equipment (PPE); and
    • emergency contact information and emergency procedures.
  • Participants are required to partake in this process to complete the Field Study Activity Plan.

Complete the google docField Study Activity Plan, external link

Environmental Health and Safety at Ryerson is committed to accessibility for persons with disabilities. If you require this document in an alternative format, please get in touch with your department’s EHS contact.

Field studies being conducted abroad

Additional risk management precautions must be taken for international travel, including registration with Ryerson International. Specific requirements for some destinations as per the International Travel Risk Management Plan must be completed in the early stages of planning. Please visit Ryerson International’s website for more information.

Additional resources field study participants can utilize

EHS has created a google docSafety Provision Checklist template, external link with recommended safety provisions that should be taken when conducting an off-campus field work activity. Having safety provisions on-hand is necessary in the event of an injury or emergency. Note that not all provisions will be applicable to the nature of your activity.

Questions?

If you are a supervisor or participant with questions about field studies, please contact EHS for additional support at 416-979-5000, ext. 553770 or ehs@ryerson.ca.