NSF Hosts Arctic Field Safety and Risk Management Workshop

NSF's Arctic Research Support and Logistics (RSL) program hosted an Arctic Field Safety Risk Management Workshop on 4-5 February 2014 to initiate a discussion of Arctic field safety risk management. Over 50 participants attended representing diverse academic disciplines, facility managers, university risk management offices, field support providers and incorporating experiences from across the Arctic. The RSL program managers partnered with NSF's Polar Programs (PLR) Environment, Safety and Health (ESH) Section and the risk management team at CH2M HILL Polar Services (CPS) to develop the workshop goals of discussing current policies with the Arctic research community, exploring field safety risk management at other agencies and organizations, increasing engagement from the research community and research institution level, and developing a community of practice about Arctic field safety risk management that would continue well beyond the two-day workshop.

Several keynote and informational talks framed the topics while break-out sessions explored Arctic field safety risk management in detail. On the second day, a table-top exercise allowed participants to work through an incident in the field, facilitated by CPS and the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS). Two professional facilitators from SRA International facilitated discussion and break-out group products. Together with with ARCUS staff, the facilitators maintained the meeting flow and captured meeting discussion and outcomes for the workshop report. The workshop report will be available for comment by summer 2014.

Key themes included the responsibility of everyone in a field team to participate in risk assessment and risk management, the importance of mentoring and education to develop proficiency among research personnel in safely performing fieldwork, and the understanding that grantee institutions have responsibility for activities performed under the grant. Further to this, nearly all participants recognized that their university or institution's risk management office may have an important role to play to assess and manage risk, ensure that appropriate insurance is in place, and to serve as a 24-hour emergency point of contact should anything go awry in the field.

Major take-away messages will be more thoroughly developed in the workshop report, but include the need to involve institution risk management offices, the need to shift the culture of risk management to embrace sharing of close-calls or near-misses to inform others and avoid repeating mistakes. The culture at NASA of 'confessing' safety situations to peers and the annual publication of Accidents in North American Mountaineering by the American Alpine Club are examples of how this can be an effective preventative to more serious incidents. NSF will continue to evolve the field safety training and preparation materials available through the RSL program and CH2M HILL Polar Services with input from the workshop. In addition, the workshop participants and anyone interested in being part of the community of practice for Arctic field safety risk management will continue to build on these services and other information and approaches that will help reduce field safety risk in the Arctic.

For more information, see the workshop webpage (http://rslriskworkshop.com/) or contact Renee Crain (rcrain [at] nsf.gov) or Pat Haggerty (phaggert [at] nsf.gov).