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Fieldwork Hazards

Fieldwork can be hazardous and it is up to the individuals themselves to use common sense and a precautionary approach so that risks are minimised and accidents avoided. Here are some typical hazards that may need to be prepared for:

Rockfall at Waipatiki, Image: Julian Thomson

Rockfall at Waipatiki, Image: Julian Thomson

Cliff
Many geological excursions involve inspecting cliffs, or moving above or below cliffs to access a location.  Small or large cliff falls are a natural part of the erosion process. They can occur at any time, but especially after rainfall or in strong winds. Evidence of recent falls is a primary warning sign, as well as recent weather conditions (rain).  Prevent people from climbing up above others and subjecting them to falling rocks. Wet ground underfoot will obviously increase the possibility of a slip over the edge of a clifftop. Good group management is essential in these areas.

Coastline
Hazards involve falling into deep, turbulent water, being struck by waves, or trapped and confined against cliffs by incoming tides. The actual level of the tide on a given day can be strongly affected by wind. Always check tide timetables and ideally start your trip while the tide is on its way out.

Fieldwork in Mangahouanga Stream, Image: Julian Thomson

Fieldwork in Mangahouanga Stream, Image: Julian Thomson

River
Falling into deep, moving water is an obvious hazard, especially above rapids or submerged tree trunks. Immersion in cold water can lead to hypothermia at the very least. A confined river bed or gorge can be subject to rapid rises in water level or flash flooding. A long spell of dry weather can lead to complacency about this hazard, so careful judgements about possible weather changes in the river catchment area are important.

Steep slopes
Steep slopes can be relatively easy to traverse, and therefore give a false sense of security. Steep drops or water bodies at the base of a slope can make the consequences of a fall extremely dangerous.

Bush
The obvious danger is getting lost. Stick to well beaten tracks and keep the group close together. Inexperienced trampers can get lost in areas which might seem straightforward to those with more experience.

Alpine environment, Image: Julian Thomson

Alpine environment, Image: Julian Thomson

Alpine
Alpine conditions occur in the mountains ranges of New Zealand above the treeline.  Numerous potential hazards arise from extremes of weather, glaciation, rockfall and avalanche hazards, steep slopes and physical remoteness.  
Specific hazards include intense sunlight, temperature and weather extremes, altitude, poor visibility, snow, glaciers and crevasses, rockfalls, icefalls and avalanches. Arduous terrain and large distances can be physically and psychologically demanding.
Some of our alpine environments are easily accessible, for example on the North Island volcanoes , Arthurs Pass, near Mount Cook village or the West Coast glaciers. Always seek and follow advice from Department of Conservation Visitor Centres, and be properly prepared for the conditions.

Volcanic
Check volcano activity status on www.geonet.org.nz/volcano  and at Department of Conservation visitor centres. Volcanic activity can occur without warning.

Eruption hazards depend on the volcano and eruption style, and may include explosions, ballistics (flying rocks), pyroclastic density currents (fast moving hot ash clouds), lava flows, lava domes, landslides, ash, volcanic gases, lightning, lahars (mudflows), tsunami, and/or earthquakes.

Volcanic unrest hazards occur on and near the volcano, and may include steam eruptions, volcanic gases, earthquakes, landslides, uplift, subsidence, changes to hot springs, and/or lahars (mudflows).

Volcanic environment hazards may include hydrothermal activity, earthquakes, landslides, volcanic gases, and/or lahars (mudflows).
An overview of New Zealand’s volcano hazards and our volcanic alert level system can be found here 

Geothermal spring, Image: Julian Thomson

Geothermal spring, Image: Julian Thomson

Geothermal
Hazards include sudden hydrothermal eruptions, hot gases and liquids and inhalation of high concentrations of poisonous gases such as carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide and hydrogen sulphide. Falling through thin surface crusts is a risk for people so it is vital to always stay on formed tracks and behind (not on) safety barriers.
Amoebic Meningitis is a disease that can be quickly fatal. It occurs from infected geothermal water entering the nose (for example from putting your head under water in a geothermal hot spring). Avoid jumping, diving or putting your head underwater in natural hot springs.
Visitors to geothermal areas must:
    - stay on paths.
    - supervise children.
    - not throw rubbish or stones onto geothermal features.

Rock outcrop beside road, Image; Julian Thomson

Rock outcrop beside road, Image; Julian Thomson

Roadside
In general, visiting outcrops alongside busy roads should be avoided, especially with children or large groups. Safety and common sense should rule, and any decision to stop should only be if vehicles can be parked at a safe distance off the road side, avoiding blind corners or narrow sections of road.  Activities should be well away from and out of danger of moving traffic.

Quarries

In general it is inappropriate for members of the public to visit working quarries due to the multiple hazards. Permissions must always go through the operators who may allow formally organised visits. Strict health and safety protocols will be mandatory. Hard hats, steel toe cap boots and high visibility jackets will normally be essential.