Fieldwork Inclusion & Safety

Banner: The Nicholas School is committed to ensuring fieldwork experiences are safe and inclusive. To that end, students, staff and faculty must be equipped with the resources and knowledge to maintain professional and appropriate behavior. Should violations occur in the field, it's imperative that we understand how to identify them and respond. Please find resources to support safe and inclusive fieldwork below.
What is Fieldwork?

According to Duke University, fieldwork includes:

  • Class outings to Duke Forest,
  • Research cruises to study marine biodiversity,
  • Clinical work in a field hospital set up after a natural disaster,
  • And many other Duke-authorized activities conducted by faculty, staff, students, or authorized volunteers at locations away from Duke’s main campus or other Duke buildings. (See the full definition in the Fieldwork Safety Policy.)
What is Fieldwork Safety?

Fieldwork Safety is a way of minimizing health and safety risks in the field. At it’s core, it’s about keeping people safe and healthy. Duke University emphasizes physical safety (see Duke’s Field Work Safety Policy and Duke’s Fieldwork Safety Plan Template and Safety Guidelines for Fieldwork – including example of hazards that should be included in your safety plans!).

At the Nicholas School, we believe that Fieldwork Safety extends beyond physical safety and includes emotional and psychological safety. Fieldwork Safety means ensuring that Student and Participant experiences the field are free of harassment, discrimination, and bullying. With this, the Nicholas School acknowledges the long history of harassment in fieldwork and the persistence of this issue (Nelson 2017).

Are you conducting fieldwork that involves animals? If so, check in with Duke IACUC. You should do this even if your fieldwork doesn’t involve handling animals, e.g., camera traps and photocapture should be approved by Duke IACUC.

Who is Responsible for Fieldwork Safety?

According to Duke’s Field Work Safety Policy, everyone is responsible for Fieldwork safety including (1) Principal Investigators (PIs) and Instructors, (2) Field Team Leaders, and (3) Students and Employees Participating in Field Work. Details on these roles can be found in Duke’s Field Work Safety Policy and are included below.

What is the role of the PI/Instructor in promoting fieldwork safety?

According to Duke Policy, “Each lead instructor, clinical coordinator, or Principal Investigator conducting fieldwork shall:

  • Develop a Safety Plan for fieldwork activities that identifies likely hazards associated with the activity or physical environment (such as weather, wildlife, plants, endemic diseases, water-borne diseases, radiation, tools/equipment/chemicals to be used, noise, heights/steep terrain, unusual methods of travel, violence, or crime). The safety plan must also include a plan for communications in case of emergency. The Safety Guidelines for Fieldwork may be consulted for guidance.
  • Provide training on hazards and prevention of exposure to hazards, or ensure certification/licensing for high-risk activities such as SCUBA diving, use of firearms, use of heavy equipment, or piloting a boat or aircraft. High-risk activities require department head approval before they can be incorporated into any fieldwork program.
  • Provide training on appropriate emergency response to injuries or illnesses, including location of nearest medical care facilities in case they may be needed.
  • Investigate all incidents to determine their cause and, where possible, incorporate preventive measures into the safety plan.
  • Notify the department of incidents. If relevant, also notify Human Resources (employee injury) and/or Corporate Risk Management.
  • Designate a field team leader for each excursion who will carry out the responsibilities named below.
  • Set up a system for keeping track of personnel who will be in the field so that someone on campus (in the lab or department) knows where personnel will be, how to contact them, when they expect to be back, etc.”
What is the role of the Field Team Leader?

According to Duke Policy, “[t]he Field Team Leader shall:

  • Ensure adequate training of all team members.
  • Ensure implementation of controls (e.g., PPE, medical precautions).
  • Ensure that at least one team member is certified in first aid/CPR and ensure that a first aid kit is available.
  • Ensure adequate provisions for food, shelter, water, communication, and transportation.
  • Conduct ongoing risk assessments & report new hazards to the lead instructor or PI
  • Resolve safety concerns arising in the field.
  • Maintain regular contact with PI or department.
  • Inform PI or department of all incidents (e.g., injuries, illnesses, or near-misses)”
What is the role of the Students or Employee Participating?

According to Duke Policy, participating students and employees “shall:

  • Communicate all medical restrictions to the lead instructor or Principal Investigator and the Field Team Leader before participating in field work activities. Consult with Employee Occupational Health and Wellness or Student Health for guidance if needed, or if requested by lead instructor/PI or Field Team Leader.
  • Provide planned itinerary and communicate leaving for and returning from the field as required by the PI or lead instructor.
  • Review the safety plan and become familiar with the risks identified and the relevant control strategies.
  • Follow guidance from the PI, lead instructor, and/or team leader for minimizing risks.
  • Notify the team leader, PI, or lead instructor of newly identified hazards.
  • Report all incidents to the team leader, PI, or lead instructor.”

Duke Resources

Duke’s Occupational & Environmental Safety Office offers a template for Fieldwork Safety Policy to minimize health and safety risks associated with fieldwork.

The Duke Graduate School has developed an interactive guide to provide information for students about resources, and processes for addressing harassment and discrimination.

Resources Related to Insurance

External Resources

*N.B. These resources have been modified from

International Resources

Additional Resources

  • Preparing for a Queer-Minded Field Season – the Forest Stewards Guild has put together this resource guide to make forestry and field more accessible to LGBTQIA+ people.
  • *CDC Traveler’s Health – Provides health information for over 200 international destinations, vaccination and disease information, and many other health-related resources for domestic and international travel.
  • *NIOSH Outdoor Safety – Covers several hazards of working outdoors including physical hazards (weather, temperature, UV), biological hazards (vector-borne diseases, wildlife/insects, poisonous plants), and others.
  • *National Weather Service – Provides information on safety in extreme weather situations including heat, lightning, hurricanes, tornados, floods, UV, air quality, winter weather, and rip currents.
  • *US Forest Service Handbook – Provides safety information for general travel, motorized vehicles, aviation and watercraft, livestock, bicycles, and hiking safety.
  • Field Codes of Conduct – Find effective policies for field environments from the Science Education Resource Center (SERC) at Carleton College.
  • Changing the Culture of Fieldwork in the Geosciences (2021) – This article by A.F. Hill,  M. Jacquemart, A.U. Gold and K. Tiampo for Eos Magazine promotes a risk management workshop for field scientists (RMWFS) and shares some of its outcomes to advance inclusivity and reduce harassment in fieldwork.
  • Ten Steps to Protect BIPOC Scholars in the Field (2020) – This article by J. Anadu, H. Ali and C. Jackson for Eos Magazine provides 10 recommendations to protect BIPOC from discrimination and racialized violence in the field.


1Woodgate et al. (2018). Preventing Harassment in Fieldwork Situations. Report from the University of Washington’s Respect and Equality in Fieldwork (REIF) 2017 Committee. [link]

2Nelson et al. (2017). Signaling Safety: Characterizing Fieldwork Experiences and Their Implications for Career Trajectories. American Anthropologist. Vol. 119, No. 4, pp. 710–722. DOI: 10.1111/aman.12929

3Gibbons, A. (2014). Sexual Harassment is Common in Scientific Fieldwork. Science Magazine. [link]