Environmental Monitoring

Environmental Monitoring

A key aspect of any field program is to ensure OHS for all staff. The section below is taken from the ANZECC Water Quality Monitoring Guidelines, specifically addressing issues related to water quality monitoring.

ANZECC Water Quality Monitoring Guidelines
4.7. Occupational Health and Safety

Identification of Hazards
Hazards or risks involved with field sampling need to be identified and documented on a preliminary
site visit. The major questions to be resolved are these:

  • can staff reach the site in safety?
  • can a sample be safely taken? Is the water fast flowing? Is a boat to be used? Is there safe boat access? Is the site prone to flash floods? Is the bank stable? Are tidal changes likely?
  • will sampling staff be exposed to toxic or other hazardous substances?
  • will sampling staff be exposed to any pathogens, e.g. Ross River virus, malaria, etc.?
  • will any potentially dangerous fauna be encountered, e.g. spiders, ticks, snakes, leeches, crocodiles, sharks, pigs, etc.?
  • are weather conditions likely to endanger personal safety? In alpine areas especially, weather patterns are extremely variable .

Personnel who are to conduct sampling should be physically and mentally able to carry out field work . For example , if sampling staff fall into a water body , they must be physically fit enough to get out without assistance (although staff should never work alone in the field). Sampling staff working near water must be able to swim . They must also be able to climb up river banks. In proper professional practice , risks must be reduced as much as possible, and staff must not be required to operate in conditions that are unsafe.

Education About Hazards
All staff must be appropriately trained as part of the formal risk minimisation strategy. Training will include:

  • familiarisation with environmental hazards that may be encountered;
  • familiarisation with sampling protocols ( sampling procedures, chain of custody considerations, etc.);
  • use of sampling equipment;
  • qualifications to drive appropriate vehicles, e.g. off-road 4-wheel-drive vehicles, bikes, tractors or boats;
  • familiarisation with safety procedures;
  • qualifications in advanced first aid.

Risk Minimisation Plans

The following directives should reduce risks during sampling operations:

  • Limit continuous driving. If sampling sites are at a considerable distance, do not drive there without a stop. Take breaks of at least 15 minutes every 3 hours, and sample for no more than 10 hours in one 24 hour period.
  • Choose safe sites with safe access. Visit potential sites and check them after they have been tentatively selected from map surveys. They should have reasonable access, be free of dangerous animals or prickly or poisonous plants, have no steep, slippery or unstable banks, and not be prone to rapid flooding or tidewater rise without warning.
  • Wear appropriate clothing. Obtain weather forecasts for an area to be sampled. Be prepared, for example, to wear raincoats if there is likelihood of rain, warm clothing if it is cold, hat and sunscreen at all times, and footwear with a good grip for wet rocks (do not go barefoot, risking injury from sticks or broken glass). Note that sunscreen can be a source of contamination and should be used with due care for this reason. Take extra clothes and a towel in case of someone falling in the water.
  • Take appropriate safety gear and a first aid kit. Wear lifejackets when sampling near deep water with poor footing or from a boat. Plastic gloves are essential to anyone who has an open or bandaged wound when handling chemicals or contaminated water or even if the water quality at the site is unknown. Take a fully stocked first aid kit to the monitoring site; ideally , someone in the monitoring party should have first aid training.
  • Maintain contact with help and never sample alone. Work with at least two others and stay in contact with someone who can raise the alarm; carry a mobile telephone if available or at least keep coins or phonecard to be able to make a telephone call. In remote areas, carry maps, compass, mirror and matches and inform a responsible person of intended movements. There must be written procedures describing how emergency services are to be accessed.
  • Never go into deep water. Sampling in deep water requires the use of an appropriate boat with thenecessary safety equipment (life jackets, flares, etc.); preferably, sample from a bridge or use a cableway if installed at the site.
  • Avoid contact with contaminated water. Carry drinking water. Do not drink from the source being monitored. Always wear plastic gloves when water quality at the site is unknown and in particular when collecting samples in which the presence of algae, pathogenic organisms or toxins can be expected (cyanobacteria can cause skin and eye irritations). Wash hands after monitoring and before eating; treat all bacterial cultures as pathogenic.

Professional practice also requires sampling staff to :

  • obtain approval as required, such as permits to collect fauna and flora or take water samples;
  • have access to sites; land-holders? permission may be required to enter private land;
  • use appropriate etiquette. It is good practice to inform local authorities, park rangers, etc., even if formal permission is not required. Local people can give useful information that helps in the choice of safe sampling locations and warns of local hazards.

Individual sampling staff have a duty of care to other personnel . Considerations include these :

  • if one person cannot carry out all aspects of field work then he or she must have colleagues to assist;
  • there should be no discrimination;
  • privacy of individuals should be respected.

There is a duty of care to avoid damaging the environment during sampling :

  • do not litter;
  • observe fire restriction requirements;
  • do not wash in streams , lakes , estuaries, etc.;
  • remove human wastes;
  • do not feed native animals;
  • minimise environmental damage by keeping to paths, tracks, etc .

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