Risk, and recognizing the possibility of loss or injury, is integral to experiential learning and is inherent in field environments where we teach and conduct research. A field instructor or researcher must also be an effective risk manager who understands and anticipates risks and acts appropriately to reduce the likelihood of negative consequences. Accidents often result from a combination of challenging conditions, inadequate preparation and poor communication. For this reason, an effective trip leader must incorporate many attributes of leadership including preparation, competency, effective communication, appropriate judgment, self and group awareness, and tolerance for adversity and uncertainty (adapted from the National Outdoor Leadership School Educator Notebook).

Chapter 1: Planning

  • Assess Potential Field Hazards
  • Assemble a written Field Safety Plan
  • Register Your Trip for UC Travel Insurance
  • Identify Appropriate Equipment, Gear and First Aid Supplies
  • Complete Forms/Documentation
  • Consider Transportation Options & Precautions
  • Communicate with Participants Before Your Trip

Case Studies

  • Example Field Safety Plan
  • Example Scientific Dive Plan
  • Budget Justification for Field Safety Supplies (UCOP)

Chapter 2: Training

  • First Aid
  • Leadership Skills
  • Basic Outdoor Skills
  • Leave No Trace & Outdoor Ethics
  • Specialized Skills, including:
    • Scientific Diving & Boating
    • Climbing or Work at Heights
    • Operating Powered Tools or Equipment
    • Excavating or Trenching
    • Entering Confined Spaces such as Caves, Vaults, Mines
    • Handling Wildlife
    • Clinical Work or Handling Biological Specimens
    • Handling or Transporting Hazardous Materials
    • Use of Drones
  • Resources for Specific Areas of Study
  • Training Documentation Form

Case Studies

  • Experiential Leadership Program (UCSC)
  • Yosemite Leadership Program (UC Merced)
  • Motorboat Operator Training Course

Chapter 3: Incident Response & Reporting

  • First Aid & Initial Response
  • Seeking Medical Care or Other Support
  • Incident Reporting to Campus
  • Reviewing Lessons Learned

Chapter 4: Best Practices for Trip Leaders & Instructors

Risk Assessment:

  • Evaluating the “Accident Potential”
  • Developing Conservative Judgment
  • Facilitating Safe Group Decision-Making
Case Study
  • Using the Green-Amber-Red (GAR) risk model for a UC Davis research expedition on the Colorado River (by James Fitzgerald, Bodega Marine Lab)

Effective Communication:

  • Set the Tone for a Safe Learning Environment
  • Establish Reasonable Expectations/Behavioral Norms
  • Brief Your Team Often
  • Practice Active Listening
  • Resolve Conflict

Case Study

  • Establishing a code of conduct at UC Irvine-managed field stations to prevent and respond to sexual
    harassment and assault


  • Common Field Hazards
  • Campus Support Resources & Policies
  • Collection of Recent Field Fatalities

This publication is intended for University of California faculty, staff, and field researchers. The University of California and the contributors to this document are not liable for use of its content by others not affiliated with the University of California.