Site Health and Safety
Archaeologists are increasingly aware of health and safety considerations. Whether professional or amateur - research
or development led, it is essential to follow safe practice, especially when you are responsible for other peoples'
safety. A few precautions can make all the difference between safety and danger, and between an accident and a
Health and safety is an essential consideration for archaeologists. Every excavation must be carried out in
accordance with current health and safety legislation. Like anyone else, archaeologists face increasing insurance
costs and legal liabilities if health and safety is not properly observed.
The risks of the planned work need to be carefully assessed before it starts (this is known as 'risk assessment').
Factors such as deep excavations, electrical and gas supplies, biological, chemical or radioactive contamination,
vermin infestation or animal attack (sometimes even human attack!), unstable ground, flooding, unexploded ordnance,
extreme temperatures or high winds are just some of the potential hazards which need to be taken into account and
the eventuality planned for (however remote). Equipment must be in good working order and used for its designated
purpose. Protective clothing such as rainwear, steel reinforced boots, hard hats, ear mufflers and even sealed
body-suits for dealing with biohazards must be made available to everyone when appropriate. Vertical sections
around trenches must be shored, stepped or battered (sloped) to avoid a sudden collapse (this has killed
archaeologists in the past). Great care should be taken to avoid injury to passers-by, especially when the site is
All workers on site should be properly trained in the use of tools, including hand-tools. Health and safety
documentation should be prepared and all staff must read this and be aware of the risks. An adequate number of
qualified first-aiders must be on site, and the locations and numbers of the nearest emergency services noted.
People with medical conditions should inform the site director before beginning work.
Whilst some types of archaeological work, such as underwater archaeology, aerial archaeology, very deep excavations
or working alongside construction plant will always be comparatively dangerous, most fieldwork is actually fairly
safe and may be enjoyed without too much fear or worry, once the basics of health and safety have been observed.
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