5 Insider Tips—How to Be Fieldwork Ready

Veteran researcher Dr. Sara Vero from Waterford Institute of Technology, Ireland, shares expert tips on how to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of your field visits.

Have you thought of absolutely everything?

As a researcher, you’re likely an expert in your specialty. You’ve probably meticulously planned everything about how to make your experiment run effectively. But it’s the little things that can make or break a field study. And many researchers forget to think about the soft skills of field work. Small things like not getting the timing right, ineffective sampling skills, or being subject to undue pressures or exposure can slow you down, bring your experiment to a halt—or worse—cause serious problems with the quality of your data.

Get more out of every field visit

In this 30-minute webinar, veteran researcher Dr. Sara Vero, lecturer in Agriculture Science at Waterford Institute of Technology, Ireland, and author of the book, Fieldwork Ready: An Introductory Guide to Field Research for Agriculture, Environment, and Soil Scientists | Wiley, shares expert tips on how to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of your field visits. Learn:

  • How to identify hazards and risks in fieldwork
  • How to make a safety plan
  • How to choose the right vehicle for field work and use it responsibly and effectively
  • What to do when things go wrong
  • How to use a two- or three-person team effectively for training, data quality control, and as a touchstone
  • Effective sampling procedures, and more

Next steps


Our scientists have decades of experience helping researchers and growers measure the soil-plant-atmosphere continuum.


Dr. Sara Vero is a researcher and lecturer in agricultural science. Her work focuses on soil physics, chemistry and water quality. Dr. Vero’s new book, Fieldwork Ready: An Introductory Guide to Field Research for Agriculture, Environment, and Soil Scientists | Wiley is a guide to field research in agricultural and environmental science. Fieldwork Ready introduces readers to the fundamental elements of planning, preparedness, and best practice that help field researchers to run successful experiments and investigations.


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Hello everyone, and welcome to Five Insider TipsHow to Be Field Work Ready. Today’s presentation will be about 30 minutes followed by about 10 minutes of Q&A with our presenter Dr. Sara Vero, whom I’ll introduce in just a moment. But before we start, we’ve got a couple of housekeeping items. First, we want this webinar to be interactive, so we encourage you to submit any and all questions in the Questions pane. And we’ll be keeping track of these for the Q&A session toward the end. Second, if you want us to go back or repeat something you missed, don’t worry, we’ll be sending around a recording of the webinar via email within the next three to five business days. Okay, with all of that out of the way, let’s get started. Today we’ll hear from Dr. Sara Vero, who will discuss how to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of your field visits. Sara is a researcher and lecturer in agricultural science, whose work focuses on soil physics, chemistry, and water quality. Her new book, Field Work Ready is a guide to field research in agricultural and environmental science and Field Work Ready introduces readers to the fundamental elements of planning, preparedness, and best practice that help field researchers to run successful experiments and investigations. So without further ado, I’ll hand it over to Sara to get us started.

Thank you so much. Good morning, or good evening, depending on where you’re tuning in from; it’s early evening here on the south coast of Ireland. I’d like to thank you all so much for coming. And many thanks, especially to METER for hosting me. So I’m here today to talk to you about the soft skills of field research. And it’s an area that I’m really passionate about. And I’m sure many of you are too. So what do I mean when I say soft skills? Well, you can think of them a lot in other aspects of our research careers. And soft skills are really the non technical skills. So they include things like public speaking or interpersonal skills. They’re really about how you work, more so than what you do. And while we deal with these a lot in other aspects of our careers, we often overlook them when it comes to field research. Now, I’m sure we all receive training, and it’s pretty easy actually to get good training, or how to take a measurement or use a device. And there’s SOPs available in your own research institutes for a lot of the techniques that you’re going to use, but often we overlook, and we don’t receive a lot of formal training and how to plan the other aspects of field research. So our travel, our sample management, the logistics, how to work in a field team, and so on. And really, it’s these soft skills in my own experience, at least, that can really make or break a field experiment or sampling campaign. So today, we’re going to talk through five tips related to field work soft skills that will help you be successful in your field research.

What we’re going to cover is firstly, how to identify hazards and risks, how to make a safety plan, choosing and using vehicles, field vehicles that is, dealing with setbacks, and finally, the buddy system. And each of these are important. Now this isn’t everything you need to know about field work, but it should help you get started and move into the field. So firstly, we’re going to talk about risk assessment and how to identify our hazards and risks. This is best practice under legal requirements in all workplaces. So no matter where you work, or whether it’s in a research institute or university, you’re going to be required to do risk assessment and some of you are going to be familiar with this anyway, from a laboratory setting. Risk assessment is a written document that firstly identifies hazards, that is things or procedures that can cause harm. It assesses risks for each hazard. And finally, it includes a safety plan that details how you are going to mitigate these risks.

Just like lab procedures, you need a risk assessment for all fieldwork and risk assessments you can see in the cycle diagram here, it’s not a one stop action. It’s a cycle because situations in the fields change and develop. So you need to review your fieldwork and aspects as it evolves. Now the first step, the first thing that you need to do is to make a list of the hazards that you anticipate that you’re going to encounter in the field.

Hazards are anything that have the potential to do harm to a person or animal and or also to damage property and the environment. So I like to divide them into three categories. So I can identify the hazards systematically. First of all, we have environmental hazards and these are hazards which are inherent to the site, they’re just there anyway irrespective of whether you go out and do field research or not. So these can be natural hazards such as water, darkness, slippery or uneven terrain, or they can be manmade hazards, such as buried cables or pipes, louder because of noise and so on. So doing a thorough sight of assessment for your fieldwork can help you predict these. And you might even need to do a preliminary site visit to get your eyes on the site, and to see what you’re dealing with. Second of all, we have experimental hazards. And these are hazards which directly relate to what you’re doing. So usually these are hazards that wouldn’t be there if you weren’t there during the experiment. These include use of machinery and tools, or vehicles, or the use of hazardous substances like chemicals or radioactive materials. And really, it’s your responsibility as the researcher to come familiar with your equipment, and practice ahead of time and familiarize yourself with the hazards that those equipments and tools and devices might involve. Finally, we’re going to categorize personal hazards. And these are hazards that relate to you, your team or to other humans. So these include things like lone working, working outside of hours. So usually outside of hours means outside of standard working hours, so outside up before eight in the morning, or after six in the evening, roughly. And exhaustion, manual handling, which is a very, very common hazard in all workplaces really. And then at the extreme or the more unusual end of things, crime. And hopefully you won’t encounter any of that. The reason I subdivide the hazards into these three categories is because it helps you work through and identify the hazards systematically, if you don’t have a systematic approach as we all know as researchers, it’s very easy to overlook things. So once you’ve made a list of all of the hazards you anticipate at your field site, or as part of your field work, the next step is to identify the level of risk that you anticipate for each hazard.

Now, what is risk? Risk is really a combination of three individual factors. Firstly, you have how likely is it that the hazard will cause harms is your likelihood factor. Secondly, we have the severity, how severe, how important or how negative is that harm going to be? And thirdly, we have who might be exposed, because some people might be more vulnerable to harm than others. And you have to take account of that. So for example, someone with an underlying health condition is more vulnerable than someone without.

Now, there are different ways to categorizing risk. And I’ve often seen it done numerically where someone might use a scale from one to 10. Personally, I don’t prefer this method, because it’s not always clear which direction the scale operates on. Is one the highest risk? Is 10 the highest risk? And it’s also a little blurry of what the difference between individual numbers is. Like what’s the manifest difference in reality between a level six and a level seven of risk? So I prefer a much simpler, clearer risk rating. So I go low, moderate, or high risk categories. Now, what is a low risk hazard? A low risk hazard is one that has a low likelihood of harm. And even if harm occurs, it’s a fairly low severity. So let’s say you could get stung by a nettle, but you don’t have an allergy. So it’s really low risk, it’s not going to do much harm in the grand scheme of things. A moderate risk means an increase in either the likelihood of harm or the severity of harm. So let’s say you don’t get stung by a nettle. Let’s say you get stung by giant hogweed, which is a common toxic plant over here, or let’s say stinging ivy in parts of the US. The harm in this instance will be far greater than the harm of a nettle sting. So you’d raise it to a moderate level of risk. What’s a high risk hazard? A high risk hazard would be anything that has either a high likelihood of harm, or a high severity of harm, or any harm done to a vulnerable person. So in this scenario, it will be high risk, if the person who gets stung has the propensity to have an allergic reaction, that would always be a high risk factor. And you should take note of what risk you’ve assigned each one of the hazards that you’ve listed. Now, we’ve been talking so far about the written risk assessment that you do before you go to the field.

But you may also have to assess risks as they occur in the field, so you do it with a dynamic risk assessment. And you might not write this down at the time because it’s usually kind of a spur of the moment thing, but you can document this after fieldwork. Now why might you do a new risk assessment? You’ve already done a risk assessment, you’ve arrived on site and you want to, you know, get on with doing your actual experiment. But let’s say the scenario isn’t exactly the same as you had anticipated when you’re planning this back at the office. For example, if you work in an agricultural setting, let’s imagine that the field where you were intending to dig a soil pit, well, it has a bull in it and you’d normally not have a bull in it. That animal might now present a risk to you and to your team. So you’re going to have to revise your risk assessment and make decisions on the spot. So none of these are dynamic, so the first thing I would say is to take note of warning signs or the evolving situation just because you’re engrossed in your work, doesn’t mean you should not pay attention to potential hazards or changes as they develop and where there’s a key example of this, you should assess the risks or stop what you’re doing. Have a little think and maybe a discussion with your team, and identify whether this is serious, whether you need to change what you’re doing, or to put in a new safety procedure. Consider your mitigation options, what are my options to handle this hazard or to lower the risk? And then remember, you can always decide to withdraw from fieldwork on any given day, if the situation is majorly different from what you planned and prepared for. And this is particularly true, if there are unexpected hazards. Remember that it’s better to come back another day and try again, rather than risk the safety of you or your team or even which is less serious, but still very negative to compromise the integrity and futility of your site. So next up, I’m going to show you a sample risk assessment template.

Now each of your workplaces might have a standardized risk assessment template for everyone to use. If not feel free to use something like this or email me, I’m going to put up my email later, I’d be more than happy to send it to you. Most risk assessment templates look something like this, I’m just going to point out a few key details. First of all, risk assessments should record who is responsible for the task at hand, and who composed this risk assessment. You should always know where their assessment refers to, and what it is that you intend to do there. So why are you doing field work there? What methods are you going to be using? You should also have a site description, because this will link to your environmental hazards. You then need to list systematically each hazard, the risk level you have assigned to each hazard and what your safety measures for your safety plan are. I’m going to go on to that shortly. But the one thing I would say is just in this example slide, I’ve only listed three potential hazards, you’re probably going to have more than that. So you can obviously just add rows as necessary. Now crucially, you’ll see here that all personnel who are involved in fieldwork should sign off that they have read this risk assessment, and are aware and understand each of the hazards and risks. And this is your responsibility as the team or the field leader. Or if you’re just a member of the fieldwork team, and you’re not the leader, you need to have personal accountability that you’ve familiarized yourself with the procedures, you’re aware of the hazards and risks, and you commit to adhering to the safety protocol that are described here. And really, you should go through this with your team, at team meetings or prep before you go to the field. This isn’t something that you discuss when you’re unloading a van, it’s much more serious than that. And it needs to be given adequate amount of time and consideration. So once you’ve got your risk assessment completed, the next thing to consider is your safety plan.

And this is the series of steps that you take to reduce the hazards and risks. Now, first of all, I would say always address the highest risk hazards as the priority. So the hazards that are the most serious that are most likely to cause harm or most severe harm. You should consider if you can avoid a hazard entirely, or if the measurement or technique is essential to your experiment. So for example, if you’re using a method, say using some radioactive materials, that’s implicitly hazardous. Before you go ahead and do that, think do I really need to do this? Is that data actually going to be valuable, is it essential to the experimental procedure that I have designed? And if it’s not essential, and it’s very high risk, maybe you need to consider taking that out. Next of all, consider if you can alter the hazard itself in some way to make it safer. So let’s take an example of working at height; the higher you go, the more severe the impact of a fall is going to be. So consider do you need to work at an extreme height? Or can you achieve a comparable result at a safer height? Can you reduce the exposure to a hazard? And typically this is done by doing the hazardous thing less frequently. And really, advances in telemetry and automated devices have provided a huge advantage to the field researcher here. And you can consider some of the devices supplied and devices by METER. So let’s talk about automated water samplers for an example, that’s something that I would deal with in my own work very frequently. These are great because they mean that the researcher might not need to visit a site during flood conditions or inclement weather, but the measurements or samples are still achieved and there are many options in the fields of soil and environmental science for this. So the less frequently you have to visit a hazardous site or do a hazardous task, the better for you and the safer for you. You can consider safer alternatives. So if there are several ways or several techniques to take a measurement or to apply a treatment, consider which of them are least hazardous. So let’s take for example heavy equipment and soil ordering equipment is one example of very, very heavy, bulky, awkward equipment. So these might pose a hazard from a manual handling perspective, the simplest way to reduce the risk here is consider can you use a lighter device? Can you take measures to reduce the likelihood or the severity of harm? So let’s take weather exposure for an example. It’s very, very common field hazards at both ends of the spectrum, either very, very hot, dry or humid weather, or very, very wet and cold weather. And they can be equally harmful depending on your setting and scenario. Can you take into account in your planning procedure to local weather conditions and shedule your work for what will be optimal both for the experiment and for the safety and comfort of your team. And finally, the final step in your safety plan is to define what PPE personal protective equipment you will use. Now, this might seem a little strange, why is this at the bottom of the safety plan and not at the top, because it’s really probably the most common safety step that most of us take not only in the field, but in the lab as well. The thing about PPE is that it assumes that the hazards cannot be avoided, you’re going to be exposed to this hazard. And so it acknowledges that some level of risk to the researcher is going to be present. You should therefore try and lower the hazard or lower the risk as a priority. I’m not saying don’t use PPE, in fact, you must use appropriate PPE, it’s essential. What I’m saying is consider managing the hazard, lowering the risk themselves before you resort to saying well, it’s a risky environment. And I’ll just do the best I can. No, see if you can take a proactive approach and make it less risky and less hazardous.

So my final comments on the safety plan is that all members of a field team should carry in case of emergency card like this. And this is just a little slip of paper, you can put in your wallet, or you can laminate it and keep it in your pocket, keep in your equipment, make a badge, something like that. And that includes your personal details, who you are, what your research institute is, key medical details that might be important to emergency personnel, like blood type, allergies, or underlying conditions, you should have your doctor and your insurance details. And finally, it should list an emergency contact, this could be a responsible person in your workplace, it could be your manager, or it could be a family member. The key thing here is that it is a person who can be reliably contacted. Now, hopefully, it will never come to this. But you should have all the information that someone might need in case of emergency if things go really wrong. So that is the safety plan and risk assessment.

Now we’re going to move on to vehicles, and really having a good and suitable vehicle for field research, it’s often you know, it’s what gets you to the site, it’s what gets you around the site. And it’s often where you set up your workstation where you work from. So it’s really, really very important. How do you choose what vehicle to use for field work? And sometimes there’s only one available to you and your research institute. Or sometimes there’s a suite of vehicles for different different fields scenarios. So you might have to make a kind of informed choice, you might have the luxury of choice. So first of all, I like to consider the distance that you have to travel. And this means that you need to think about the fuel efficiency of the vehicle. And if you have options to refuel along the way depending on where you are in the world, this might not be so simple. You should also consider comfort. If you have very, very long distances to travel, some vehicles are more comfortable than others. And there’s often you know, a degree of a trade off between comfort for the long journey which might be by a highway or motorway versus capability of off road in rougher terrain. The next thing you need to think about is is the vehicle suitable for the weather you’re going to encounter. And it’s not just a vehicle, but aspects of the vehicle can be considered individually. Do you have appropriate tires? Do you have appropriate brakes, appropriate wipers, things like that. So that’s always good to consider. Terrain is probably one of the biggest issue for vehicles in field research and if you plan to take the vehicle off road, four by fours or pickups often have significant advantages. That’s not to say that they’re perfect. We can see here that vehicles at both in the top and the bottom photos there have gotten mired in mud and snow respectively. So you want to think about your site, what terrain are you going to be traveling on and is the vehicle that you have available capable in that terrain. And I would also say that pickups and four by fours, they’re very, very useful and they’re much better than two wheel drive vehicles off road. But they do have an issue sometimes with fishtailing if they’re not properly weighted down in the back so make sure you become familiar with driving your vehicle on the terrain that you’re going to encounter. The next thing is equipment and supplies. And you need to make sure that your vehicle has enough room for the equipment for your samples. And for the supplies you need to bring in, you might want to do a trial run ahead of time when you load up the vehicle. Even though you’re not going anywhere, just to see that everything fits in it, not just fits in, but fits in safely that samples aren’t going to spill or equipment is going to become damaged. If you are sampling, particularly if you’re taking bulky samples, like soil or water, you’d want to make sure that there’s enough space to bring the samples back on the return journey. So you might need excess space as well. And you’re going to need capacity for your own luggage, for your food etc. Particularly if you’re making an overnight or a multi day trip. You should also consider your team. Is everybody who you need to bring going to fit safely and comfortably? You might need a second vehicle in which case I’d recommend. It’s often helpful to split the team and the equipment between the two vehicles. So that inventive breakdown, you can still initiate field work or so that all your eggs aren’t in one basket so to speak.

Now, I just want to draw your attention to transporting yourself within the field site. So often we take a vehicle to a field site. And then we proceed on foot to the actual sampling location or the monitoring location. And this might involve a lot of carrying of equipment, carrying samples and taking several trips. It can be time consuming and can be tiring. So I just wanted to show you two neat little solutions here. They’re not suitable for absolutely every terrain, but they might be useful for you. So we can see here a very clever bicycle that was adapted by a colleague of mine, Lauren Phillips, which has a trailer for carrying auto sampler carousels. And I think that’s a pretty neat way of carrying a very heavy and bulky item across relatively flat terrain, probably not very good if you’re in mountain research. And we see here on the far side, we have a simple field car that I use for tying bulky or heavy equipment, not essential, but they can definitely take some labor off of you in the field. And let’s face it, you’re going to have enough hard work to do even without carrying equipment, or in some cases, several miles. So my final comments on field work vehicles, make sure that you have a license for whatever category of vehicle you’re going to use and that you have adequate skills. Just because you’re licensed to pull a trailer doesn’t mean you have experience and ability in pulling that trailer. So you might need to receive additional training or practice. And again, that’s something that needs to do ahead of time; it’s not something you’re going to learn on the day of fieldwork.

If you share vehicles, please be respectful. And then most institutes have a booking system either on paper or using a digital calendar. Book your vehicle well in advance and return it on time. Leave the keys at the designated locations and make sure you park the vehicle where the next user can expect it to be found. And fieldwork can often be very messy work, no one expects you to be spotless. The vehicles are going to get dirty, please empty the vehicle on your return. And leave it clean. Leave it as you would like to find it. And also, if there’s any problems with the vehicle, don’t feel shy don’t feel oh my goodness, I can’t say this, maybe I’ll be held responsible. Your responsibility is to make sure the vehicle is adequate and prepared for the next person. So you might need to report any problems such as low oil or issues with the tires or anything else you might encounter to whoever is responsible for vehicle management. You probably need to keep a logbook, you can see an example of it here at the bottom. These are documents that record all the basic details of your journeys, how far you’re going, if you feel fueled it up things like that. And this is so that the vehicle can be serviced and maintained on the appropriate schedule. But also that any traffic issues that might arise can be correctly attributed. And I’ll just make a brief comment on that. I think if you’re driving a work vehicle, remember, it’s probably going to have your university or your research institute logo on the side. And so you represent your employer and your college or university on the road. So drive responsibility responsibly. Remember that how you behave on the road or how you behave on field work and someone sees that vehicle is going to reflect directly on your employer and you want that always to be a good reflection. I find it, I know the procedures for refueling, whether that’s something that you pay for and claim back or whether that’s something that’s done on a fuel card system and, or if there are designated stations where you’re supposed to refuel, and also who you’re supposed to ring or what you’re supposed to do in the event of breakdowns because I mean these things happen all the time. So next up, let’s talk about setbacks in fieldwork and I don’t want to be negative at all.

I hope you all have great success and many many happy and wonderful experiences in your field research. But the reality is that we all experience setbacks, and I’m going to divide them into three categories. Again, this isn’t to scare you. But rather, if you can anticipate the challenges that you’re going to encounter, you can prevent them from becoming problems. And I’d like to differentiate there between challenges and problems. So first of all, delays in fieldwork are extremely common. And these can happen before you go to the field, such as late equipment, or consumables, or just waiting for institutional approval. And this is typically in the scale of in the months prior to fieldwork. You can also have delays much closer to fieldwork in the weeks before you go out. And this can be to do with the availability of site or personnel. And finally, you can have delays that occur on the day of or during fieldwork. And this can be due to people being late, traffic being bad, inclement weather, or simply the procedures and the measurements that you’re taking. The fields take longer than expected. The key here is to manage your schedule, you should always allow for some extra time with no allocated tasks, so that you can absorb these delays and really liasing ongoingly with your team is crucial and good planning can help you avoid negative impacts of delays. I would say it’s not just your team who’s going to be with you in the field on any given day, but the wider team, so the lab that you’re going to bring the samples to, the person you’re going to get the fieldwork vehicle to, anyone who has to facilitate your access to the site. So really talking to people can prevent these delays from becoming a problem. Another type of setback is errors that occur in your data. And we can divide these again into three categories. First of all, you can have systematic errors. So let’s say when an instrument is poorly calibrated, and these are usually consistent in magnitude, and they’re also typically directional. So let’s say you have a dissolved oxygen sensor, and it consistently reads a certain percentage above or below the actual truth. And the answer to systematic errors in data is or from devices rather, is in calibration, and in regular quality control of your data. And that’s the one thing I would say, if you’re used monitoring devices in the field, really check your data is satisfied, set time at regular intervals to look back at the data and see that the machinery is performing the way you want it to. Second, are much more problematic or random errors. And these are more difficult to deal with because they’re not consistent. An example would be that you’re using a balance in the field. And it’s not level or stable. And this creates variability in the measurements. And the real problem with random errors is that you can’t apply a simple correction factor, because you don’t know how large or in both directions the error is. So the best way to prevent these is to calibrate your equipment to follow your SOPs to the letter. And to be thorough, make sure you’re using the device as it’s intended to be used. Now let’s talk about the final category of accident of setback.

And that’s accidents or when something goes wrong that negatively affects a person, the experiment itself or your equipment. Now it’s a very broad category. So I’m going to not going to list all of the accidents that you might have. Rather, I’m going to give you six steps to help you deal with accidents if they occur. First thing to do is do nothing. Stop and think; acting hastily when something goes wrong can often make things worse. And I suppose if anyone’s ever done a first aid course, I’m sure you’ve been told someone has a head injury, or a suspected head injury, you don’t go and move them because you could make it worse you leave them be; you think and you deal with a scenario level headed way. And this analogy can be expanded to any accident. The next thing you do is you ensure that all people are safe. So this is yourself, your team and any third parties, people are more important than anything else. No experiments is more important than any person. So safety is your number one priority. You might even need to leave the site immediately to call emergency services or take other action. Define once everyone’s safe, define what has happened and be specific, it’s easy to be panicked and not really identify clearly what went wrong and why. But this is actually crucial. So you don’t want to misinterpret the scenario. Next up, you need to report this information to your supervisor, to a safety person, or to any other relevant authority. If there is one, you need to tell them what you determined in the previous step. So that’s particularly crucial if you’re dealing with any sort of emergency services. Next up, you need to review the scenario and determine the implications based on your analysis of the scenario. So the cause of this accident has happened. What is going to happen to my experiment, to my fieldwork? Can new samples be taken? Does equipment need to be replaced? Does the experiment need to be scrapped altogether? I hope not. But these things happen. Are the results still valid or are they compromised, and all of these things take some consideration, and you might need to give a little bit of time for this. And finally, once you’ve determined the implications, you can implement and design or you can design and implement, rather, an effective solution. And that’s the next step is not just dwell on the accident, but to take action and move on from it. And finally, I would say that setbacks, they happen to absolutely everyone, and you’ve got to get over them both in a practical perspective and from a psychological perspective. Machines break, data gets lost, delays happen. Your longevity as a researcher really depends on overcoming these setbacks and learning from them. And what I’d say is if you want a bit of fun, ask around your research institute, everybody has a fieldwork fail story. So that should also make you feel better if you’re ever thinking that nothing could possibly go worse.

So the last thing I’m going to talk about today is the buddy system. And the buddy system is when two teammates or a team are paired together for a variety of reasons. And you see this system use in other situations such as firefighting or in the military. The buddy system can be used for training and it’s slightly informal methods of knowledge transfer. Usually, you have a senior or more experienced partner who demonstrates techniques, passes on general knowledge, and a junior partner who will learn from them. And the senior partner needs to model good behavior, be familiar with the techniques. And to be considerate and patient, you need to remember your own learning experiences. The junior partner should be respectful, should ask questions, pay attention and follow instructions. The second use of the buddy system is in cross checking. You can see an example here where two colleagues are discussing the munsell color of some soil. And this is where a buddy double checks the work the data or the safety of their partner. And it’s so useful because it can provide confidence and really ensure your safety.

The third application of the buddy system is what I call the touchstone system. And this is someone who you have contact with during lone working, either means when you’re working entirely remotely, in other words, that you’re at completely different locations, or simply where you’re separated, but you’re still at the same site, but you’re out of it vision of one another. And in the system, you phone, radio, or you otherwise contact your buddy to check in and confirm that you’re each safe. And everything’s going all right. And it’s really, really crucial that you take steps to mitigate the hazards of long working because obviously, if you’re a lone worker, and an accident does occur, maybe someone won’t know for several hours. If this is a hazard, or this is an element of your risk, you can operate what’s known as a deadman switch. This is where you have pre arranged sheduled times that you’re going to call in at and if you or your buddy doesn’t call in, you then take action. So rather than wait for them to trigger an action, you take the action on their behalf. And you might do this by alerting an authority or alerting another member of staff who is more local to them, and going and checking in finding out if they’re okay. And we leave this as key. Let’s take an example of what working near watercourse, if someone falls in, and it’s saturated, maybe their phone or maybe their contact equipments isn’t working, and they can’t call you for help, or maybe someone has fallen and become incapacitated, and they’re not able to ask for help. Or maybe their phone battery has just gone dead. But either way, they’re over communication. So really, this is supposed to trigger an action on their behalf. I really can’t speak highly enough of this system. Finally, I want to mention the clean hands dirty hands protocol. And this is proposed by the USGS and their sampling manuals. This is where you have two buddies taking samples together, you’re one person who’s designated the clean hands, they’re the person who’s going to have direct contact with the sample. And then one person who is designated as the dirty hands partner. And they’re the person who’s going to handle direct sources of contamination. They’re going to handle the outside of sampling containers, they’re going to handle tools, and they’re going to record the data. And the reason for this is really to maintain sample quality. So just to recap, we have four applications of the buddy system: one for training, one for the confirmation of data, one for safety, and one for ensuring sample quality. So how have you used the buddy system successfully?

First of all, getting to know your partner is helpful if you’re friends. But if you’re just familiar with them, with their strengths, with their weaknesses, with their knowledge, you can learn to rely on one another. Practice good communication; that means listening and communicating. That communication is obviously a two way Avenue. You should be considerate and respectful, and you should anticipate their needs. That’s one of the reasons that we work in a team and so someone else can pick up the slack and read two people together or more than two people together can often do more than two people working in isolate ation and being patient. I know fieldwork can be frustrating at times, and offer and accept help. You’re not here to do this all by yourself. The reason we work in teams in fieldwork is so that we can kind of support one another and accomplish more together. And I’d say that there’s really, in my experience, at least, no better place to learn teamwork than in the field. So I know that’s a lot to cover for one morning or one afternoon, I’d like to thank you all so much for listening.

And again, thank you METER for hosting me, there’s a lot more to field work than what we discussed here today, I’d encourage you to visit my my website, fieldwork-ready.com. Or please email me at [email protected]. And I’m available to give seminars or consultations or webinars like this on field research, and hopefully get your team and yourself or your students up to speed and ready for field research. Remember, we think and trained to talk and to give public presentations and have laboratory skills all the time, have you done the same and given attention to your fieldwork skills? My book, Fieldwork Ready is available at www.wiley.com. And I’m very happy to say that my publisher, Wiley have kindly offered a 35% off book up until December 31. And that’s using the discount code, FW or 35. So thanks again. And I’d be more than happy to take any questions that you might have.

All right. Thank you very much, Sara. And we’d like to use the next 10 minutes or so to take some questions from the audience. And thank you to everybody who’s submitted questions already, we’ve got a few here in the Questions pane for us. And there’s still plenty of time to submit questions. And so feel free to type in any questions that you’d like, if we do not get to your question during the live webinar here. We do have them recorded. And either Sara or somebody from the METER environment team will be able to get back to you via the email that you registered with. So don’t worry if we don’t get to your question. All right. So first, I wanted to to ask, basically, what what was your your inspiration or what drove you to write and publish a book on fieldwork research, or at least just the being ready and prepped for fieldwork?

Sure. Well, look, I’ve done a lot of different types of fieldwork in my career, it’s really been an absolute highlight. For me, I love getting in the field. That’s why I got into agricultural and environmental science. But what I found is particularly as a masters and as a PhD student, that I could always find someone who would tell me how to use a piece of equipment. But no one ever spoke to me about logistics or very, very little. And really, there was definitely early mistakes that I made early on, that didn’t need to be made, or that I could have been better prepared for. And I noticed that there was really no one writing down this information. Either you were fortunate enough to have a great supervisor or technician who could work with you and train you up as they go. And certainly I had many kinds of helpers like that. But there was no consolidated piece of advice. And I’ve been saying this at home for quite a while. And it’s my family and friends and anyone who listens, I wish there was a book on field research and one of my sisters said to me, you should just start writing it. And, you know, it turned out that when you sit down to write things and systematize them, that actually it becomes very clear what needs to be done to be successful. And I felt that information should be passed on.

Alright, do you have any, I know some people have been asking, do you have any mistakes or funny stories to tell that would, you know, exemplify some of those those issues that you’ve had to deal with?

Oh, I mean, absolutely. I suppose I have examples of accidents. Like I had a whole monitoring array, a soil moisture array, and soil moisture sensors. It has temperature sensors and had matric potential sensors on a solar panel. I thought this is the first one I’d ever built. I thought it was fantastic. All METER devices, and a hedgecutter which is essentially a chainsaw on the tractor came along and shredded the lager box. And obviously I was devastated although I have to, you know, credit the equipment that it missed one measurement and just kept on ticking. So there was no real damage done but I could have avoided that easily if I just made the larger box more visible and maybe moved it out of the hedge. I know there are accidents or incidents where I approached a river from a river bank. It was not the same river bank I normally get in and it was very very early in the morning. So I was working in that risky out of hours window and I fell in the river and I was fortunate enough that it wasn’t as high as it might have been but I was submerged to above my waist and I had clean and dry clothes and I was able to change into when I was able to contact someone, but really, that’s an accident that could go, it could happen to anyone. But it also can go quite wrong. And on the funny side of things I do remember taking a whole day sampling grass samples and soil bulk density samples early on in my career, we were at the top of a very windy hill. And we had all of these samples, hundreds of samples in a big crate, and the wind whatever way it caught the box, and whatever way we must put it a little unstable, it tipped every single sample out, and they all went rolling downhill. And I won’t repeat on recording what my colleagues said, but these things happened to everyone all the time.

And I will along with that offer, I will offer METER support services as well. If you do have any questions or want any insight about how to, or at least any help in setting up a field research system, I know we do have a lot of really, really good experts here at our support team. So feel free to reach out and they will help you in setting up your research there.

If I can add to that, that’s one of the things I think is really great about working with METER or with with, you know, field equipment companies is that you don’t have to figure this out on your own. And that was certainly something that was a great help to me, not just in the early days, but I contact METER or contact other companies. I’m using their equipment all the time. There’s experts available that can talk you through not just the technical side, but the reality of using their equipment. So it’s not like an Ikea catalog where you have these little pictograms, and you have to figure it out, know someone is available. And you can reach out and get help. And I really encourage people to do that.

All right, we do have a question from the audience asking you about site specific risk assessment and mitigation plans. So are there instances where there might be a specific site that requires a research team to fill out a, again, a site specific risk assessment or plan? Or is there a universally accepted or equivalent risk assessment or mitigation plan that that teams might use?

Yeah, that’s very good question. Really all risk assessments should be relatively site specific. So in other words, if you’re using the same techniques that you always use, let’s say you have a certain suite of techniques that you use regularly, but you know, you’re going to be at a site that is very irregular, it’s not your typical site, I would recommend that you do a new risk assessment for that site. Alternatively, if you’re using sites that are on private land, whether that’s a commercial site or an agricultural site, or whatever that might be, they might have their own site safety requirements. So you might need to liaise with whoever is granting you access to that site, and make sure you fill in whatever documentation that is standard or required for them. And also, I would say check in with your specific employer. What I’ve given you is the general sort of universal principles of hazard and risk and site assessment. But your employer might have specific things that they want you to take account of, or incorporate into your hazard and risk assessment. So they are the three points I would have to say on that. Consider if the site is very different to what you would normally use, consider the site requirements, does the land owner or the manager there have particular documents that they want you to fill in? And then consider the requirements of your own employer or your own university?

How do you deal with unplanned visits? So for instance, like you’ve talked about issues with, you know, instrumentation or other things like, is there any specific insight that you would give to if you just have to jump up from your normal schedule and routine and head out to the field?

Yeah, I actually, I love that question, actually, thanks to whoever asked that. Thanks so much for mentioning that field research. You might have to do, now I don’t use the word emergency, but I think yes, an unplanned or an unscheduled visit, that’s very, very common. And there’s really a couple of reasons you might need to do this. Number one, you might suspect that something has gone wrong with your monitoring equipment or with your site, things like that. So you might need to go there at short notice, or alternatively, you could be waiting for optimal weather conditions or optimal river conditions. And so you might only have a matter of 24 or 48 hours notice that you need to get out there and get prepared. So really, the question here is, can you make yourself ready at short notice? Now making yourself ready is a little bit tricky, but I get around this. I always have a grab bag or grab box that has all my basic tools for field research. So I’ll always have field research, fieldwork codes that are set aside and ready. That includes my PPE, my boots, my high visibility gear, I will always have a basic toolkit. So I’ll include my torch, my motor tools, any specific tools that I need to use, all my equipment out of spare batteries that are ready to charge so I can swap them in with equipment if it’s gone dead. And really the difficult thing I suppose might be your vehicles; you might have trouble getting an institutional vehicle on short notice. But if you’re doing, let’s say event sampling, which is very, very common in hydrologic science, you need to make your team or make the research institute aware of this and have a plan for how you’re going to get the site at short notice. But yeah, I would say always have a go bag or a grab bag, so that you can deploy to the field very rapidly.

All right. I think that is going to do it for us today. Thank you again, Sara. Thank you again to everybody for your questions and for your attendance today. We hope you’ve enjoyed this discussion as much as we have. Also, please consider answering the short survey that will appear after this webinar is finished, just to let us know what types of webinars you’d like to see in the future. Also, for more information on what you’ve seen today, please check out episode four of METER’s podcast entitled We Measure the World where we have a deeper discussion with Sara about field research and being field work ready. You can find that at our website and metergroup.com or wherever you get your podcasts. Also, I did want to mention again, there was a question about the code. And so for for those who are in attendance, we want to make sure that we have that code for Sara’s book, Field Work Ready, there at wiley.com And we will end with that. And so finally look for the recording of today’s presentation in your email. And stay tuned for future METER webinars. So thanks again. Stay safe, and have a great day.

Thank you. Bye bye.

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