Universities often ask faculty and staff leading offsite activities and travel to conduct risk assessments. But how competent are the faculty and staff to do so? What assurance does the university have that their fieldwork leaders can accurately assess the context, identify the threats and then assess the risk to the trip? Then, are they able to minimise the risk to the people on the trip, as well as to the university’s reputation, should something go wrong?
The University of Brighton takes these questions seriously. At any one time, the University can have hundreds of people travelling offsite. Its university policy requires all leaders of offsite fieldwork and activities to complete a risk assessment and wanted to make sure that as many people as possible knew how to do so competently. The diversity of trip types taken by the university is astounding. Staff need to conduct risk assessments for everything from day trips to London, to medical research trips in East Africa, to low-level space flights.
Working with the University of Brighton’s Health and Safety Office, Safer Edge developed a one-day training for university staff who complete risk assessments as part of their work. Advertised openly, staff were free to sign up and attend at their convenience. The course was tailored to the university’s policies and procedures to make sure that participants would learn exactly what the University expected of them. During the course, they learned how to conduct risk assessments, how to mitigate risk, good practice in communicating with participants, special considerations for types of trip participants, and emergency response planning.
A range of topics were raised and discussed including, what counts as ‘down time’ or when are participants ‘off-duty’? What to do when participants are unruly and uncooperative? How to handle leading a ‘team’ of peers. Which threats are ‘threatening’ enough to make it onto a risk assessment?
“I recommend this course for all staff planning, leading and participating in field trips. The knowledge and experience of the facilitator was first class and despite my initial reservations regarding the relevance and applicability to the HEI [Higher Education Institutions] sector, I left confident that our current approach and suggestions from Safer Edge will ensure smooth running of future trips.”
- Dr. Jonathan Caplin
School of Environment and Technology
The course allowed the University to get valuable feedback from its staff by collecting recommendations for changes and revisions to its own policy and procedures from those who worked with them regularly. Some course participants said that they were seeing an increase in mental health issues on fieldwork and they, and their teams, felt unprepared to handle some of them. The University has already responded by creating training for fieldwork leaders on appropriate handling of mental health issues for fieldwork leaders.
Dr. Jonathan Caplin, the Fieldcourse Coordinator for the School of Environment and Technology said, “I recommend this course for all staff planning, leading and participating in field trips. The knowledge and experience of the facilitator was first class and despite my initial reservations regarding the relevance and applicability to the HEI [Higher Education Institutions] sector, I left confident that our current approach and suggestions from Safer Edge will ensure smooth running of future trips.”
One issue which all academics can sympathise with is not having enough time. Taking a day out of work to attend a one-day training is difficult. In response to this, the University of Brighton and Safer Edge took the one-day course and piloted a blended learning course which combined the same curriculum and information into a three-hour online module with a three-hour face-to-face training session. One participant said, I would recommend the course as the mixture of online and in person training was a good delivery method. The group discussion allowed the theory to be discussed in practice and now I feel confident in carrying out a risk assessment.” Avril Wilson added, “As someone who is dyslexic it was very useful to have flexible time to do the online course first. I could make my own notes and use individual learning strategies before coming to the group session.”
Is your university looking for something similar? Our learning and risk management teams are happy to discuss what you might need and how we can work with you to ensure safe offsite learning, research and travel. Send us an email.