Guide to Safe Field Surveying

Surveying is not an especially hazardous occupation, but care should be exercised in order to avoid some predictable pitfalls. Accidents occur even to careful people. For those who are not careful, not prepared or not educated to the risks, accidents occur more often, and can be extremely serious or fatal.

Do you know what to do if someone is severely wounded, breaks a bone, stops breathing, drowns, is electrocuted, has a heart attack, falls off a cliff, has internal injuries or goes into shock? I'm not going to try to teach you in this article. I suggest you have at least one person on each crew trained in first aid and CPR. Classes are available at your local Red Cross. This article is about field safety, the things that can-and do-go wrong and threaten surveyors' health and safety.

You don't want to be rendered speechless, standing around watching with mouth agape and eyes agog as an emergency unfolds before you. And you don't want to be the one who doesn't know what to do to prevent or mitigate a disaster or save a life. You may never forgive yourself for your inaction.

First-Aid Kits

First-aid kits should be in the surveyor's possession whenever he or she goes to the field. A basic first aid kit containing essential bandages, salves and lotions should be supplemented with instructions on the use and application of first aid techniques. Basic first aid books can be obtained from the Red Cross or from just about any bookstore. They can be invaluable. First-aid kits can be purchased for a substantial amount of money (approaching the national debt of some third-world countries), or you can assemble one of your own from supplies obtained from the local pharmacy.

Use your own judgment based upon the type of sites you survey and your geographic location. Different areas of the country may require specific items. For instance, if cactus is common to your area, you may wish to include tweezers for removing spines. If surveying in the mountains, you may wish to include some hoisting gear to help lift an injured person out of a drop-off. Take a look at the commercially available kits and determine additional items appropriate to your needs and budget.

Wear the Right Gear

Walking on rugged, uneven terrain is a daily requirement for surveyors. Damage to your ankles or knees can put you in a whole new occupation real fast. Wear good, lace-up boots with rippled, lugged or treaded soles and heavy cotton or wool socks. Good rough-country climbing/walking boots cost a lot less than average run-of-the-mill cowboy boots. This is money well spent. Your feet will thank you.

Jeans, the all-American mainstay of casual attire, are tough, durable and can help protect the lower body from scratches, cuts or abrasions. Several brands of jeans are available, any of which will usually be the toughest pants money can buy.

Protect Your Peepers

Eyes seem to suffer more than their fair share of injuries. An ophthalmologist reported to me that he treated a lot of eye injuries caused by unseen tree limbs. (Coincidentally, he said the injury was almost always to the better of the two eyes-until the injury, at least.) Wearing glasses instead of contact lenses in the field might prove to be a good idea. A pair of safety glasses is recommended for working in dense brush.

The sun can also damage the eyes. If a billed cap doesn't keep the sun out of your eyes, wearing sunglasses may be an option. Cheap, inexpensive sunglasses can strain the eyes. A decent pair of sunglasses is money well-spent. For those who usually wear glasses, carrying a pair of prescription sunglasses is an option.

Head Strong

Many agencies and contractors require the use of a certified hardhat when on their premises. Most surveying takes place where hardhats seem to be nothing more than a nuisance and the requirements pure bureaucratic nonsense. As much as I would like to agree, I also know that the courts tend to rule that if you have a policy that is not enforced, the owner/agency is liable for damages that would not have occurred if the policy were enforced. That is to say, the owner becomes liable for the surveyor's disregard for the rules. Sorry guys and gals, get tough and wear your hardhats.

When the federal government first required hardhats, I was working on a highway project in west Texas where there was seldom anything within sight that was higher than your head. My friend and co-worker reluctantly and begrudgingly wore his hardhat from time-to-time, especially when the boss was around. One day we were standing near the travel lane of a recently repaved highway when I heard a loud "whew-PING" as a piece of stone, the size of a pea, pinched from between the pavement and a car tire, ricocheted from his helmet. From then on he wore his helmet more and complained less.

Surviving the Cold

Cold weather has its own demons. Cold weather can cause drowsiness, increasing the chance for mistakes, errors or accidents. Extreme cold weather can cause frostbite, requiring amputation of the frozen flesh. People with heart problems may find their condition worsened in the cold, resulting in a heart attack.
Dress for Warmth

The key is to dress for the weather. Excellent cold weather clothing can be obtained at very reasonable prices. The body loses most of its heat through the head. Always wear a good, warm hat when working in cold weather. The type of hat will depend on whether there is a strong wind, how cold it is expected to become, whether rain or snow is expected and individual preference. Cowboy hats do little or no good for long periods of time in extreme cold. A wool watch cap may be the least expensive hat available, but they do the trick. I've found them in military surplus stores selling for as little as $2. Other hats to consider are the types with flaps that can be pulled down to cover the ears. Keep your ears and neck covered and protected from the cold as well.

Gloves are extremely important for keeping the hands from freezing. The popular leather gloves sold in department stores, designed as driving gloves, are not too bad for short durations or mildly cold weather. For very cold weather, insulated and waterproofed gloves should be used.

Jeans are not good insulators. Wear a pair of good wool or cotton long-johns under your jeans for warmth. It is not unreasonable to wear jeans over wool long-johns in order to protect yourself from the cold. If it is going to be wet, wear a pair of waterproof slacks, similar to ski-pants, over your other pants.

Good jackets and coats are not hard to find either. Military surplus stores sell jackets, complete with pockets for pens, pencils and notepads on the sleeve for a lot less than the popular ones normally found in department stores. Some are reversible with one side safety-orange-great for survey work-and very warm.

The Sun Is Not Your Friend

The sun can be one of the surveyor's most merciless antagonists. The sun and its severe heat can cause several life-threatening problems including sun stroke, sunburn and skin cancer. Cover yourself well with light-colored clothing.
Avoid Skin Cancer

Hats that shade the face and neck from the sun's rays should be used. Baseball caps don't do a lot of good; they either shade the face and not the neck, or, if reversed, shade the neck and not the face. One suggestion is to carry a large handkerchief for hanging from the back of the cap to protect the neck from the sun's rays.

A friend of mine has a scar on the back of his left hand, oval-shaped, about 31/2" long and 21/2" wide. He had a small mole removed, and when it was found to be malignant, the doctors went searching for its tentacles. They removed so much of the flesh on the back of his hand that he required a skin transplant using flesh from his leg. He was one of the lucky ones.

An engineer I worked with was bald, and in defiance of social norms, refused to wear a hat. I noticed he had funny-looking, irregularly shaped, gray-brown blemishes on his scalp. I was certain they were the same pre-cancerous melanoma I had removed from my arm only a few months earlier. I harassed him for several months before he relented and went to a doctor. He came back to work with bandages over several (14 to 17) spots on his head.

Skin cancer is a big killer because it is very difficult to diagnose and to treat once it has spread. Since it is produced by excessive exposure to the sun, almost anyone is a potential victim.
Sunburn Be careful in succumbing to the temptation of taking off your shirt to fight the heat. Besides leaving you more exposed to insects, poisonous plants and scratchy limbs, it can also contribute to serious sunburn. Sunburns can result in blisters and second degree burns. The skin over the blisters can slough off, exposing flesh to infection. Sunburn can be sneaky; you don't know it's happening until it's too late. Besides being very painful, a sunburn will dehydrate you, leave you feverish and can result in shock.

You probably already know this, but be reminded: When working around water (ponds, lakes, oceans and rivers), take special care to avoid sunburn. The ground absorbs rays, but more are reflected off the water. This refraction causes more of the sun's rays to strike your skin, greatly increasing the intensity.

Whenever the sun might pose a problem, apply a sunscreen with SPF factor of at least 15 to 20 to exposed skin. The first-aid kit should be stocked with a liberal supply of sunscreen. Like other injuries, applying the right treatment in a timely fashion will greatly reduce the amount of damage. An appropriate burn treatment should be included in the crew's first-aid kit.
Drink Up Dehydration is one of the subtlest hazards for the surveyor. Frequently, thirst is masked as hunger, nicotine withdrawal or some other desire. Under normal circumstances, the body requires two to three quarts of water every day. That intake should be doubled if you're working outdoors. Coffee, tea and soft drinks don't substitute for water. In the summer, body moisture is lost due to perspiration. In the winter, body moisture is lost due to the extremely low humidity typical in cold weather. At all times, carry an ample supply of water and a replacement supply on the survey vehicle. Every vehicle should be equipped with a container with sufficient capacity to provide three to four quarts of water per crew member per day.
Sunstroke and Heat Prostration Heat prostration is characterized by headaches, weakness and dizziness. The skin is cold and clammy. Sunstroke is a step further; the victim has a high fever, dizziness and may be nauseated. The skin is actually warm and dry because the body has ceased to perspire. To prevent sunstroke and heat prostration, drink lots of water, remain covered and replace salt lost from the body by taking salt tablets occasionally.

If a crew member should become a victim to these heat-related ills, he or she should rest in a shady area, be rehydrated, cooled with wet towels and taken to a doctor. Sunstroke is deadly. If sunstroke is even suspected, rush the victim to the hospital.

Snakes, Bugs and Other Critters

Snakes

Snakes are generally more frightening (or startling) than they are dangerous. There are, however, several varieties of snakes in this country which are dangerous or even deadly, for instance rattlesnakes, water moccasins, copperheads and coral snakes. If you're unfamiliar with snakes in your area, presume any snake to be poisonous.

If you feel a snake crawling around your ankle, don't panic. Snakes can't see very well nor move very fast. Thus, they are prone to panic themselves and strike at anything they see moving. Even non-poisonous snakes can be dangerous. Not only does a snake bite hurt like the dickens, but the snake may very well pass on infectious bacteria, which can exacerbate the otherwise minor wound.
Bugs Insects can be more than an unpleasant nuisance-they can be deadly. Some people are more sensitive to insect bites than others, to the extent that a bite or sting could prove fatal. I know several people who are so sensitive to bee and wasp stings that they need to be rushed immediately to the hospital if stung.

If a crew member is stung, first remove the stinger as soon as possible in order to prevent more venom from invading the wound. Most sources recommend using a sharp edge to pry the stinger out of the wound. Normally bee or wasp stings can be treated with a compress of baking soda and water. If you or a crew member are allergic to bees, ask your doctor for an emergency kit and keep it with you at all times.

If the victim complains of swelling or shortness of breath, rush him or her to the hospital immediately. People allergic to venom may go into anaphylactic shock. When this occurs, the venom causes swelling in the throat, which may cut off and prevent oxygen from getting to the body and cause suffocation. The victim may only have 20 to 30 minutes before serious or permanent damage (or death) occurs.

Ants are the most common insects encountered during surveying. Both domestic red ants and fire ants are abundant in this country. The sting of a red ant is painful and, if not treated properly, can become infected and cause problems. Fire ants are becoming more prevalent as they take over the red ants' domain. Fire ant stings are very painful, cause blisters and can be life-threatening. This seldom occurs to adult humans, though, for the simple reason that the sting is so painful, people tend to beat a hasty retreat to avoid additional stings.

Mosquitoes can also be surprisingly dangerous since they are carriers of malaria. Although not a serious problem in this country, the threat of malaria is something to remember when working in wetter climes.

Flies are born in and make their homes in animal fecal waste. As if that statement alone isn't enough to get your attention, they also contaminate food or water with pathogenic organisms. Keep your food and water covered and protected until ready to consume.

Ticks, long thought to be only a nuisance, are now known to be responsible for the spread of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Lyme disease. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, most common in the Rocky Mountains and the southeastern United States, is a sometimes fatal illness. According to some sources, three days to a week following the bite from an infected tick, the victim exhibits flu-like symptoms, progressing to nausea, vomiting and eventually, coma. Shortly after the onset of symptoms, the body develops a rash that starts on the wrists and ankles and spreads over the body. Lyme disease is an often fatal illness that attacks the neurological system and debilitates the victim. A few years ago, Lyme disease was thought to be limited to a few eastern states. Unfortunately, however, it is now recognized across the United States. Ticks, the size of a pencil point, infect by biting into the skin and sucking blood. Because the tick is so small and the feeding so slow, it takes a day for the tick to fully infect the victim with enough bacteria to produce Lyme disease. In a couple of days to over a month, a red rash at the site of the tick bite may develop. The rash takes the shape of a circle, growing larger in diameter and usually clearing in the middle, such that it resembles a bull's eye. Often, additional rashes occur on other parts of the body. If you are working in heavily wooded or brushy areas, check yourself for ticks several times every day and have a friend check the areas you can't see, like the back of your neck, hairline, etc. Wear light-colored clothing so ticks can be detected more easily should they get on your clothes. If you notice any symptoms of Lyme disease, contact your doctor immediately.

Protect yourself against insect stings or bites by wearing clothes that cover most of the body. Use insect repellents liberally and pay attention to your surroundings. Wear long pants, boots and heavy socks. If possible, strap your pant leg to your ankle with an elastic or rubber band or Velcro strap to prevent insects from crawling up your pant legs. Spiders, although not an insect, are more of a nuisance than a danger in most parts of the country. There are several spiders which can be dangerous or even deadly, including the brown recluse, tarantula and the black widow. If these spiders live in your part of the country, learn to recognize them and avoid them at all costs.
Critters

Animals can be hazardous to your health. Depending on where you live, you can expect to encounter bears, alligators, skunks, horses, dogs, raccoons, porcupines, wild hogs and other animals. Dogs and horses often appear to be friendly and harmless. They are animals, however, and, like some humans we all know, subject to sudden, inexplicable changes in behavior. Dogs and horses have seriously injured some very surprised people.

Dogs, and even cats, may suddenly turn from friendly to hostile and unexpectedly bite or scratch a stranger. Horses bite, kick or simply, clumsily, step on people from time to time. Besides the direct injuries caused by critters, some bites may convey rabies. If you are bitten by an animal, get to a doctor immediately.

Bears are exceptionally dangerous if aroused. While we were surveying down a switchback mountain trail in Idaho, a bear was ambling down the same trail just a few dozen yards ahead of us. It must have been aware of our presence because it always stayed just far enough ahead of us to avoid contact. The bear was tearing the bark off of trees to get at the ants and termites, eating the blueberries along the trail (something I thought was my personal property) and making threatening grunting and growling sounds from time to time. As head rodman, I was particularly sensitive to the dangers of encountering a mother bear protecting its young or a male bear protecting its territory. Since I couldn't talk the crew chief into quitting early or taking a long break (after all, he wasn't in the lead; I was. He didn't have to outrun the bear; he only had to outrun me, and he had a 200' head start), I made as much noise as I could while moving forward. I not only talked loudly, but, after getting tired of my one-sided conversations and realizing that I might be making a case for a stay in the state hospital, I decided that singing loudly was a better idea. I made my debut as a singer during those hours (which, being an engineer for the past 30 years, tells you something about my singing) and kept the bear at a distance.

A prudent crew chief would have backed off for an hour or so to give the bear all the time and space it wanted. My recommendation is to back off-way off. The same advice applies to almost any wild animal. Remember, there is no way of knowing when a wild boar is having a bad hair day.

Beware the Plant Life

Poisonous plants are prolific in some parts of the country. A surveyor must learn to identify poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac and any other poisonous plant indigenous to his or her locale, and he or she must know the correct treatment for each one.

I was in a vacant field near my home when I brushed against some poison sumac. The instant it touched my skin I knew I had a problem, but I thought I had merely brushed against some relatively harmless thistle. As I looked at my skin, however, it immediately began to redden and blister. I quickly returned home and rinsed the skin with cold water. The blistering stopped and the redness abated. An hour later there was no indication I had been poisoned. I hate to think of what would have happened if I had to wait a few hours before getting treatment.

Cactus can be a serious threat. I knew an 8-year-old boy who thought his cowboy boots would protect him from cactus spines. That boy spent a painful couple of hours while his father removed his boots and pulled the spines out of his feet. I don't know of any footwear designed to prevent cactus from penetrating and injuring feet. Best bet: avoid it completely.

Jobsite Accidents

Accidents don't just happen-they are caused. An infinite combination of situations is conducive to accidents. Care and attention to details are the only ways to avoid accidental injuries.
Beware Fences

Fences must be crossed with care. I recommend you use the same techniques to cross fences with survey equipment as you use to cross fences with firearms. Don't cross the fence alone; always have someone assist you. Once the first person has crossed the fence, hand the equipment over the fence carefully.

Normal fences can be negotiated using lightweight ladders designed especially for this purpose. Barbed wire fences require special caution. One older man I knew in college (he had to be all of 27 or 28) was crawling through a barbed wire fence when his ankle snagged a barb and cut his Achilles tendon.
Surveyor vs. Automobile

Guess who's going to win? Automobiles are one of the biggest killers of surveyors. My first day of work on a new part-time job started at 1:00 p.m. When I arrived, there was no one else present except for a receptionist borrowed from another department. Everybody was at the funeral of a co-worker who had been struck by a car and knocked over 75' before he hit the ground. He had been setting up a transit along the shoulder of an interstate highway when an exhausted salesman who, after driving all night, fell asleep at the wheel and ran his car off the road, hitting and killing the surveyor. Unfortunately, this isn't an isolated incident. In another case, a car struck a surveyor setting up an instrument on a residential street. The surveyor was not seriously injured, although the tripod and transit were destroyed. When the driver got out of the car to see what the commotion was, he said to the surveyor, without remorse or apology, "Well, you weren't supposed to be in the street anyway."

For the safest approach, try to find a location to set up the instrument that will be out of the way of traffic-way out. Survey technicians often are required to obtain information in the traveled right of way. (Note the term "right of way.") Except for a few unusual circumstances, the automobile traffic has the right of way, literally, and drivers don't expect to see anything in their way. Remember, nobody in the world is as crazy, inattentive, doped-up, drunk, angry, frustrated, or as stupid as the driver of an automobile, and unfortunately, that probably includes all of us at some point in time. Be careful. Wear bright-colored clothing, preferably a safety-orange vest. Set up flags, cones, flashing lights and signs well upstream of the survey site. If you anticipate being in the right of way for a substantial period of time, you may wish to contact the local traffic police and ask them to have patrol officers visit the site or even set up a speed trap. It could be well worth the request.
Working on the Railroad Railroads are a subject I didn't think needed addressing until one day when my wife handed me the local newspaper. She pointed to an article she knew would interest me, titled "Surveyor from Mansfield Killed by Train Near Rhome." According to the article, a surveyor from Mansfield was struck and killed by a locomotive pulling 55 railroad cars. Officials said the surveyor, 38, had set up his equipment on the railroad tracks to survey the surrounding tract of land. As the train approached, the engineer saw the surveyor on the tracks and began to blow the train's whistle.

Apparently, the surveyor didn't hear it and was struck and dragged 107' by the Burlington Northern Santa Fe train. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Sometimes we become so deeply intent on problem-solving that the rest of the world ceases to exist for us. Our world becomes limited to solving a survey problem, finding a property corner, determining why the equipment is not responding as expected and a myriad of other problems. It is easy to lose track of our surroundings and the immediacy of the dangers to our fellow workers and ourselves. Don't be a headline.

Bear in mind that a train pulling 55 cars at 50 miles per hour, such as the one above, will take over a mile to come to a complete stop. By the time the engineer sees you on the tracks, it's too late for him or her to stop the train.

The federal government has laws covering work on active railroad lines that apply to visitors and the public in general. Many states also have laws that apply to working on railroad property. And, bear in mind that the railroad right of way is private property, protected by trespass laws just like your home.

Best bet: Call the railroad and ask permission. Some railroads will put you through a one-hour safety and familiarization session and might even assign security personnel to accompany you. To a large extent, they don't have a choice. They too must obey the laws and protect themselves from lawsuits.
Alcohol and Drug Use Alcohol and drug usage is an absolute no-no. I've known many good people damage their reputations simply because they occasionally succumbed to the temptation of a beer or two during their lunch breaks. Alcohol does not cease to affect an individual when the lunch hour is over. Regardless of the effect or extent of impairment due to alcohol, the mere fact that it was imbibed will place a person's performance, liability and character in doubt. If there is an accident, error or even a personality clash on the job, the one who is known to be a drinker or drug user will be the one whose credibility, memory and powers of observation will be discredited.

Alcohol and drug use also affect judgment, resulting in errors and accidents. Many employers consider even mild alcohol usage on the job to be grounds for termination and extend that to lunch and supper breaks. Almost all employers will terminate even a good and valuable employee immediately if they even suspect he or she is using illegal drugs, and the laws tend to support that move.
Horsing Around

Horseplay is the real cause of many on-the-job injuries. These tend to be covered-up in order to protect the guilty, to save somebody's job, or to ensure insurance benefits will be available to the injured. The jobsite is not the place to clown around. Horseplay soon becomes a habit, gradually escalating in intensity and recklessness until someone gets hurt.

Think. You and only you are responsible for your actions. Pay attention, think each step through before starting to act and don't allow boredom to take control. Instead, be planning ahead. Current trends toward changing tort, insurance liability and workers' compensation laws will make it increasingly difficult to become enriched through your own carelessness. You don't really want to get rich by being hurt on the job anyway. Spending an insurance settlement from a hospital bed isn't worth the pain and suffering.

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