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Health and Safety Services

Health and safety policy for the School of Earth Sciences

This safety statement should be read in conjunction with the Birkbeck Safety Policy.

The Head of School, Dr. Charlie Bristow, is committed to and  responsible for the promotion of safety awareness, maintenance of safe working and the instruction and training of staff.

All matters concerning health & safety should be directed to the Safety Coordinator for the Department in the first instance. The School Safety Coordinator is : Andrew Beard. 

College Safety Officer - The College Safety Officer offers help and advice on any safety issue to all staff and provides safety training on a number of topics. Contact Tom McCartney, Extn 6218.

Legal Responsibilities of Staff - All College employees have a legal responsibility under Section 7 of the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 to take reasonable care of themselves and all others who may be affected by their acts and omissions and to co-operate with the College with regard to health & safety. All persons on College premises have a duty under Section 8 of the above Act not to interfere with or to misuse anything provided by the College in the interests of health and safety.

Risk Assessment - No work outside the scope of this document will be permitted to start unless it is covered by a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks involved in the work as required by the Management of Health and Safety At Work Regulations. The Safety Coordinator can provide advice on Risk Assessment.

Excessive Occupational Stress - Birkbeck has a policy and guidance on the management of occupational stress. See:   Essentially managers are required to assess the factors within their area of responsibility that can cause excessive occupational stress - workloads, individual staff capability, etc and minimise the risk from these where any are found to be likely to lead to ill health.  Staff also have a duty to flag up to their line managers the existence of factors that may be causing excessive occupational stress.

Supervision of Students - Supervisors of students or trainees have a special responsibility to ensure that fully adequate instructions, even those perhaps seemingly obvious or elementary, are given to their charges to protect them from danger. The need for detailed instruction and close supervision of students and trainees is especially important in practical exercises, particularly field expeditions. It is not sufficient for a supervisor to assume that an act or manoeuvre is so manifestly dangerous that no-one would attempt it.

In return the sections require students and trainees to observe instructions given by their staff and to take reasonable care to ensure that their acts or omissions do not result in injury to themselves or others.

Emergency Number - (See also the Arrangements section of the College Safety Policy). The Emergency Number in UCL is 222. In Birkbeck College buildings the Emergency Number is 555.

The emergency number can be dialled from any College telephone to summon help or report emergencies to a duty attendant who will summon help as appropriate from the emergency services or a member of staff.

Procedure in Case of Fire - Instructions concerning procedure in the case of fire are prominently displayed at strategic points around the buildings occupied by the School. Staff should familiarise themselves with these procedures and also with the escape routes in all other areas of Birkbeck or UCL they visit. On hearing the fire alarm staff will direct any students and visitors to the nearest exits. The Fire Marshal/Duty Attendant is in charge of implementing UCL/Birkbeck emergency evacuation procedures and may issue instructions to and request assistance from other members of staff.

Health Service - Staff and students of the College are entitled to make use of the medical and dental facilities provided by the University of London Central Institutions Health Service (20 Gower Street, WC1, Tel: 636 7628); details of surgery hours, etc. are given in the College Calendar and are posted in main entrance halls.

Accident and First Aid In the case of serious accident or illness, an ambulance should be summoned by telephone immediately. The duty attendant should be informed promptly to await its arrival and direct the ambulance crew to the casualty.

First Aid boxes are kept within school and departmental offices, labs and workshops and also at the reception desks of the main buildings.

A list of first-aiders can be found on the web at:

All accidents or incidents and near misses must be reported promptly using an accident report form available at:   The completed form should be sent to Birkbeck Health & Safety Services. Any person may report an accident/incident.

Staff who suffer from epilepsy, diabetes, or any other condition likely to require urgent attention, are advised, in their own interest, to inform the Head of Section, in order that assistance may be rendered promptly if necessary.

Electrical Safety - The College has a Portable Electrical Appliance testing policy at that the department must comply with..  In addition, should staff suspect any item of mains powered electrical equipment of being defective because of age, appearance or damage it must be taken out of service and reported to the Technical Services Manager who will arrange for the item to be visually inspected and electrically tested  as necessary.

Room Heaters - Because of the associated fire-risk, the use of any type of electrical or bottled-gas room heater is strictly prohibited unless prior written consent has been obtained from the College Estates Officer. Never leave a room heater running unattended other than for brief periods and certainly never overnight.

Display Screen Equipment (DSE) - The College is committed to implementing the requirements of the Display Screen Equipment Regulations and to that end arranges for all its DSE workstations to be assessed for ergonomic and other aspects of safety as required by the regulations and to be used in a safe manner. The College has a number of staff trained in DSE workstation assessment. The School DSE assessors are Steve Hirons and Andrew Carter. All DSE "users" are required to work through the interactive training package available via the following link: or refer to the College’s Display Screen Guidelines at:

Lifting and moving loads - In the School of Earth Sciences, staff and/or students may have occasion to have to work with heavy rock samples or other heavy and/or bulky items. The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 define manual handling as meaning, any transporting, supporting, lifting, putting own, pushing, pulling, carrying or moving of a load by hand or bodily force. All staff whose work involves an element of manual handling will be required to attend a session on risk assessment and safe lifting delivered by the College Safety Officer. Students should also receive such training if exposed to similar hazards.

Use of Stepladders
Stepladders and stepstools must always be used to access materials on high shelves. Furniture should never be used as a substitute. Only 'Trade' rated ladders and stepladders must be purchased and used. 'Domestic' rated ladders and stepladders are never to be used in a working environment.

All ladders and stepladders should be marked with an identity number, and be inspected as part of the annual safety audit. Inspections should ensure that:
1. There are no defective or missing treads.
2. Uprights are sound and the steps do not lean to any side.
3. Welded and/or bolted joints are sound.
4. Wheels where fitted are free moving and not leaning off line.

Do and don'ts advice for stepladder users
Do not use a makeshift stepladder.
Do not overreach from a stepladder - always move it.
When working inside a room - Do not place the stepladder where it may be struck by doors - lock the doors and put up an appropriate sign or position a colleague outside in order that the steps are not struck by opening doors.
When working in circulation areas or outside where the steps might be struck by vehicles or passers-by - Barriers must be erected and doors secured.
Do take steps out of service and report defects if noticed.
Do wear sound footwear.
Do return the stepladder to its storage place after use.
Do leave one hand free when ascending and descending. Health and Safety Executive guidance (GS31) on the safe use of ladders, step-ladders and trestles is available from the Safety Office.
Do always ensure that stepladders are placed on a level and stable surface.
Do have a colleague steady the bottom of tall sets of stepladders to ensure stability.

Asbestos - Asbestos and asbestos-containing products encapsulated or paint-sealed and left undisturbed and undamaged presents no hazard. The mineral becomes a health hazard only when its fibres become airborne and are ingested. Since positive identification of asbestos requires expert microscopy, the advice of the College Safety Officer should be sought before attempting work on any material suspected of containing the mineral. It is most important that broken tiles, damaged lagging, or any exposed surfaces suspected of containing asbestos should not be disturbed but should be reported to the College Estates Officer immediately.

Noise - Noise levels have been assessed for risk and the personal exposure of employees is below an 85dB(A) time weighted average. Ear protection is nevertheless available and should be worn when noisy equipment is in use. Noise levels are re-monitored at the time of each annual safety inspection of the department or upon request by a staff member.

COSHH - All substances hazardous to health within the School have been assessed for risk and adequate controls put in place.. Staff have been trained in safe useage and provided with adequate information and training. Specifically : 1) Small volumes of HF are used in laboratory OG7 for dissolving rock samples. Persons engaged in this work, which must be done inside a fume cupboard using the gloved box front provided, must also wear the protective gloves, suit and face masks provided. 2) Face masks, gloves and aprons provided must be used when working with molten alkalis. 3) In Room 01.1G, gloves and goggles should be worn when handling liquid nitrogen.

Personal Protective Equipment - All rock grinding/sawing/breaking/crushing machines and associated equipment must be operated only by authorised and trained personnel and the appropriate gloves, visors, aprons must be worn. Specifically, 1)Crushing and other noisy operations - ear defenders, apron, gloves. 2) Powdered rock - positive pressure respirators. 3) Weighing flux - face mask. 4) Furnace work - full face mask, heat resistant gloves. 5) Hot plate - eye protection, heat resistant gloves.

Radiation Protection - Earth Sciences is located in a UCL building. It undertakes no work with open or closed sources. The only source of ionising radiation is an X-ray sey. The legally appointed Radiation Protection Adviser is Tom McCartney, extension 6218. The School Radiation Supervisor is Steve Hirons Extension, extension 32385

Fieldwork Safety - All members of academic staff will be aware that a number of UK students have suffered severe injuries whilst engaged in geological fieldwork especially individual mapping projects. Accordingly, the hazards involved and the measures which are necessary to reduce the risk of those hazards occuring to a minimum cannot be stressed enough to all persons undertaking geological fieldwork. The procedures in the Schools Fieldwork Policy & Guidance must therefore be adhered to. In addition:

i) All members of the School engaged upon geological fieldwork will follow the 'Code for Geological Field Work' issued by the Geologists' Association, London. The British Mountaineering Council guides 'Safety on Mountains' and 'Mountain Hypothermia' and a First Aid box are to be carried by the leaders of all Departmental fieldwork parties. Leaders must be familiar with these guides before setting out

ii) Thorough consideration must be given to the possible hazards and risks which may be associated with each fieldtrip. This should include the personnel, place, activities etc.. If it is then considered that the School's existing codes of practice for fieldwork adequately cover the activities to be engaged in and terrain expected to be encountered then no further assessment is necessary. However, if the area to be visited or the activities to be engaged in are not adequately covered by the School codes then a written supplementary risk assessment should be carried out. This will certainly be the case for foreign trips to an area with political unrest, endemic diseases, especially difficult terrain etc.. A fieldwork risk assessment form for this purpose can be accessed at

iii) All student parties in the field on official School visits will be accompanied by a qualified first-aider. Students must be issued with the CHUGD "Advice to students on geological fieldwork safety and behaviour". Supervisors should ensure that it has been read and understood by their students before allowing them to set out.

iv) Students must be advised to map in pairs where possible and that this is for their own safety, to reduce harassment and provide assistance in case of an accident.

v) Academic supervisors must ensure that students planning to engage in individual fieldwork are given the following instructions orally and in writing.
1) Read and follow all safety guidance issued to you.
2) At the start of each working day inform a responsible person of where you are going, when you expect to return and leave a map or grid reference.
3) If you change plans or return to base early, report this in order to avoid false alarms.

vi) Other instructions which must be given to students are : 1)When hard,splintery rocks are being collected in the field using hammers, protective visors and gloves must be worn. 2) Dress in a professional manner. Shorts and T shirts are not suitable clothing for geological fieldwork. A hard hat and boots suitable for the purpose must be worn. 3) As accidents are more likely to happen in unfamiliar surroundings, if you choose to go out in your free time, seek advice on any hazards in the local terrain and also in the choice of amenities in any local town. Follow any such advice.

Annual Inspection -Each year, by the start of the new academic session, a health and safety inspection of each section arranged by the section's safety coordinator in collaboration with trades union nominees will be carried out and a report on the inspection submitted to the College Health and Safety Officer.

Review - This safety policy statement and any associated codes of practice will be updated annually or more often if necessary.

Last updated: February 2013

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Health & Safety Services, Birkbeck, University of London, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HX. Tel: 020 7631 6218, email: