Field & Lab Safety

Queen's and external safety resources:

Field Safety

The land holdings at QUBS (>3400 hectares) are large and heterogeneous presenting some safety challenges that must be considered before undertaking field work here. We do have first-aid kits in the Raleigh J. Robertson Biodiversity Centre (hereafter the lodge), and land-lines to call emergency services but if you are out on the land base then these may not be immediately accessible. Cell phone service is sporadic and thus one cannot assume that you can call out from every point at the Station. The Biology department does have satellite phones for Queen's should you be frequenting remote areas. All personnel should carry a small first aid kit, and as you will see below, you might be wise to carry an EpiPen or two, although this is not something that the Station itself carries.

As a general rule, workers in the field should have a contact person either back at the station, at home or at their home institution (i.e., someone who knows their itinerary and destinations at QUBS). Upon their return field personnel should then inform the contact - or if they are delayed also inform their contact (if the means to do so are available). If field personnel are not back at their designated time, the contact can then take the appropriate course of action.

The Queen's University Off-Campus Activities Safety Policy (OCASP) has been in place for many years and requires that all field workers assemble a list of hazards, the risks associated with those hazards, and ways to mitigate those risks. Below we present safety considerations in this format but emphasize that each researcher, research team leader, field course instructor, or organizer of outreach activities is responsible for safety of their group, activities of which may require different safety considerations than those listed below.

As a general rule, we ask that people at QUBS not feed the animals (racoons, chipmunks, squirrels) unless it is part of their research protocols.

Hazard Risk Analysis Risk Management and Mitigation
Arduous hikes & long working days Some field work or field courses will require long hikes to visit different habitats. Work days can span dawn to dusk and beyond. Certainly fatigue is a possibility, compromising judgment. Blisters may result from poor-fitting footwear. Appropriate footwear (e.g. hiking boots) should be worn at all times. Rest when needed, and ensure that all workers or course participants have clothing appropriate for the weather and sufficient water (see other hazards for details)
Cold & wet conditions In winter day-time temperatures can sink to as cold as minus 20-25 centigrade and night-time colder still. Even in early May or late in the summer, night-time temperatures can sometimes approach 5 degrees or cooler, and with cold rains such weather can cause chills and even hypothermia is a possibility. In very extreme weather it is best to avoid going out at all. Field workers and class participants should work in pairs or groups so that should an issue arise help with evacuation is possible. All personnel should have weather-appropriate clothing available (e.g. in layers and with rain jacket) rated appropriately for seasonal conditions. Check the weather at Environment Canada (Search for Kemptville, Ontario to get some idea of local weather).
Getting lost The Biology Station is large (>3400 hectares) and embedded within an even larger matrix that is underpopulated. Without adequate preparation there is a possibility of getting lost. Where possible, personnel should travel in groups of 2 or more and stick to recognized pathways where possible. Personnel should always carry a GPS unit with extra batteries (and make sure to mark their starting point) and refer to the topographical maps that we have available.
Insect stings & bites During spring and summer field personnel there is a possibility of insect bites (mosquitoes and tabanid flies are common), or bee or wasp stings. Even personnel without history of allergic reaction may react because they have never before been exposed. At any sign of anaphylaxis one should contact medical facility for immediate evacuation via cell phone if there is signal or land-line from the lodge. Always carry benadryl as this may lessen the reaction. For researchers working far from roads or our facility it may be well to carry an epipen or two, although these require prescriptions.
In the summer especially, intense sun & heat. Summer temperatures can exceed 30 degrees centigrade. Thus there is the possibility of dehydration and severe sunburn during some daily activities. All personnel should carry a minimum of 1 litre of water (and more of they are to be out the entire day), wear brimmed hats, and use sun block with appropriately high SPF (> 15). Sun glasses with polarizing lenses are useful.

Roadside activities

Possible vehicular accidents

Some research or course/outreach activities may occur along roadsides (e.g. nocturnal amphibian call surveys) and inattentiveness can lead to accidents with oncoming traffic, and in the worst case death. Personnel should wear brightly coloured clothing and if operating at night especially carry head lamps or flash lights. Exiting from vehicles should be undertaken with care as sometimes people drive very quickly along Opinicon Road and other roads near QUBS. After leaving vehicles personnel should immediately proceed to the sides of the road, well in from the road's edge. In all instances use common sense and do not try to carry heavy loads (i.e. distribute heavy loads among people).
Van & automobile travel Many research, course or outreach activities may occur well away from the lodge and will require van or automobile travel along gravel roads and secondary highways. Some vehicles driven by others on such back roads travel at inappropriately high speeds that can send up sprays of gravel. Inattentiveness may result in roll-over on blind corners, or head on collisions. Van travel should occur only with the rated number of passengers and at or below the listed speed limits (paying special attention to driving and weather conditions). All personnel should wear seat belts for all trips. Field workers who have not yet achieved the fill G-class licence, should adhere to the conditions of their licence.
Watercraft accidents Canoes are available for research and leisure. People, especially those inexperienced with canoes, may find themselves in difficulty should adverse weather arise. Inappropriate responses in the extreme may lead to drowning. Motorized watercraft are available but only to those who are licensed. All those who wish to use a canoe or motorboat should tell one of the QUBS staff (and including destination). We prefer that participants not use canoes alone. All those who use watercraft must wear life jackets. Drinking and use of watercraft is not allowed. All people using watercraft (including canoes) must to carry a boat kit (floating rope, flashlight, whistle, and bailing bucket). It is wise to carry an extra oar or paddle in case one breaks or is lost. See notes on cold water as well.
Ticks & Lyme Disease Ticks are becoming increasingly common at QUBS, including blacklegged ticks which carry the bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi, which causes Lyme Disease. The first sign of infection is usually a circular rash. Other common symptoms include fatigue, chills and fever, headache, muscle and joint pain, and swollen lymph nodes. If untreated Lyme disease can cause nervous system disorders, additional skin rashes, arthritis, heart palpitations, and fatigue and general weakness. It is seldom fatal. Note that, as of 2012, about 2/3rd of the ticks in the QUBS area were Eastern Dog Ticks which do not carry Lyme Disease (Bruce Smith, pers. comm.).

Personnel should wear long pants with the legs tucked, long-sleeved shirts that fit tightly at the wrist, and closed shoes and avoid sandals. Light-coloured clothing makes ticks more visible. Insect repellents containing DEET may help repel ticks. After being in the field it is wise to do a careful self-inspection for attached ticks. Prompt removal of attached ticks reduces the transmission of the Lyme disease causing bacterium. Carefully remove attached ticks using tweezers. Be sure to remove the entire tick including the mouth parts. This is best done using special tick-removal forceps not standard tweezers (several pairs of these are available in the First Aid Kits at QUBS). Be sure to save the tick in 95% or absolute alcohol for identification. It is also now possible to do PCR to determine whether the ticks are infected (and by what) and preservation in ethanol permits this. Note that only about 2/3 of the cases of Lyme Disease develop the diagnostic bulls-eye rash. There are other disease-causing organisms to be aware of {Ehrlichia spp. (causes ehrlichiosis), Anaplasma phagocytophilum(causes human granulocytic anaplasmosis), and Babesia microti (protozoan parasites that cause a hemolytic disease known as babesiosis.) - the last two are also primarily vectored by the black-legged tick, and white-footed deer mice are the reservoir host}.

After removing ticks, wash the bite site with soap and water or disinfect the area with alcohol or antiseptic. Should symptoms arise personnel should contact a doctor as soon as possible.

For more information see the Public Agency of Canada Fact Sheet.

Poison ivy

Poison ivy is a common plant at QUBS and can be found in forest understory, forest edges, fields, fence rows, and roadsides. All parts of poison ivy (leaves, stems, roots) contain a poisonous substance (urushiol) which typically causes inflammation, frequently with blisters and extreme  itchiness.

People working in the field should learn to identify the plant (see the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs web site). Long pants and long-sleeved shirts can help minimize exposure, although cloths should be washed with detergent to remove  When possible one should walk through along cleared pathways. If in contact with poison ivy one should gently wash the area with cool water and soap as soon as possible. Calamine lotion may help reduce itchiness.

Bears Black bears have been sighted at QUBS albeit very rarely (see the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources Fact Sheet). Black bears can cause injury or death but in the main are timid. To reduce the probability of contact with bears one can make noise when walking through wooded areas.This will alert bears to your presence. Be aware of your surroundings and    do not wear music headphones in the field. Watch for signs of bear activity, like tracks, claw marks on trees, flipped-over rocks, or fresh bear scat. Field workers should not leave gear unattended (especially if there is food in it). If food is to be left behind behind, it should be hung it in a tree.  If a bear is seen, back away slowly back away and change direction to avoid contact with the bear. Do not run. Do not linger around the bear or try to approach it.
Lightning If you see a thunder storm approaching and have time to react/move, avoid elevated locales, tall, isolated trees, metal fences, and water. If you can see lightning or hear thunder, and if delay between seeing the lightning and hearing the thunder is less than 30 seconds then you are in danger according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Enclosed vehicle generally provide good shelter from lightning. The majority if individuals struck by lightening survive, although some 10% may not so the risk is real.

If you are with an individual who has been struck by lightning, immediate first aid is imperative. Individuals who have been struck by lightning do not carry a charge. If you are within cell phone range then call 911 immediately. Start mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, and if the victim has no pulse, begin cardiac compressions. If the weather is cold and wet situations it is wise to put a boundary layer between the victim and the ground to reduce the probability of hypothermia. If you are in a watercraft and can see a storm approaching, go immediately go to shore. Do not go out onto the water if there is a storm approaching.

Rough, sometimes steep terrain While certainly not the Rockies, QUBS does have some rugged terrain including some ridges and rock faces. Thus there is the possibility of twisted or broken ankles or falls causing other injuries. Visitors to QUBS, researchers and course participants should stick to well-marked trails, wear appropriate footwear (hiking boots with good ankle support) and where possible  travel in groups of 2 or more so that should accident occur notification and evacuation is possible.
Cold water Lake is cold in early spring and late fall (and of course winter) and this can be a substantial risk either because hypothermia, or if immersion is sustained, drowning. For example, in water that is between 0.3 and 4 degrees centigrade, exhaustion /unconsciousness will occur in 15 – 30 minutes and survival is only between 30 – 90 minutes. Even if one can escape from being immersed in cold water, there is a substantial risk of hypothermia. As a general rule, if water temperature is less than 10 degrees centigrade, people in watercraft MUST wear a floater suit. This will help keep them warm and buoyant should they become immersed. We advise that people carry extra clothing in a waterproof bag. The station has some floater suits but if you are going to be working regularly in the water it would be best for you to get a floater suit of your own.
Swimming & diving accidents Swimming during inclement weather or when water is extremely cold may result in drowning. Rocky shores and variable depths can lead to diving accidents that may cause spinal or brain injuries and even death. Swimming should occur only in designated area of station proper and not during storms. Swimming should be undertaken in pairs. Diving is discouraged save for from the single diving board appropriately placed over deep water.
Thin ice in winter If one goes through the ice, especially if one is alone, the consequences can be severe (see cold water hazard above) and the worst case obviously includes drowning.

Avoid areas near obvious open water or ice above known fast-running water. Make sure that ice thickness is adequate for your planned activities: 15 cm (6 inches) for walking or skating alone; 20 cm (8 inches) for skating parties or games; 25 cm (10 inches) for snowmobiles and ATVs. Do not drive a vehicle onto the ice without checking first. Make sure to tell QUBS staff of your planned activities and destinations. There are various resources available on-line (Canadian Red Cross Ice Safety). If you will be working on the ice it is best to carry 'polar picks' (worn around the neck like stringed mittens). Field personnel should only go out with another person. It is best to wear a floater suit and carry a rope. Be sure to bring a complete change of clothes in a dry bag.

If you do go through the ice (from the Red Cross): 1. Call for help if you are with others or near habitation. 2. Do not try to climb out in the same direction where you went through the ice as it will be weak. 3 Use the air trapped in your clothing to get into a floating position on your stomach. 4. Reach onto the broken ice without pushing down, and then kick your legs to push your torso on the ice. 5. Once on the ice, crawl on your stomach or roll away from the open area with your arms and legs spread out as far as possible to evenly distribute your body weight. Do not stand until well away from the open water and thin ice.

Giant hogweed

This invasive plant from Asia is spreading rapidly throughout southern and central Ontario. Contact with its sap with subsequent exposure to light can result in painful blistering and rashes/dermatitis (wishing 48 hours). Contact with eyes has been reported to cause temporary and even permanent blindness although this as to be substantiated. For more information visit the OMAFRA page on this species.

For identification and details on distribution see this document from the Ontario Invasive Plant Council.

Wear protective clothing (long-sleeved shirts and long pants) and stay on pathways. If your skin comes in contact with the sap, wash thoroughly wish soap and water. If your eyes come into contact with sap then immediately flush with water. If you end up with photodermatitis or your eye comes into contact seek medical attention.

Wild parsnip, cow parsnip

This invasive plant native to Eurasia is spreading rapidly throughout southern and central Ontario. As with hogweed, contact with parsnip sap with subsequent exposure to light can result in painful blistering and rashes/dermatitis (wishing 48 hours). Contact with eyes has been reported to cause temporary and even permanent blindness although this as to be substantiated. Here is the City of Kingston page on this species.

For identification and details on distribution see also.

Similar to the precautions and other mitigation measures listed for giant hogweed. Wear protective clothing (long-sleeved shirts and long pants) and stay on pathways. If your skin comes in contact with the sap, wash thoroughly wish soap and water. If your eyes come into contact with sap then immediately flush with water. If you end up with photodermatitis or your eye comes into contact seek medical attention.