Safety in Field Operations for Alaska Land Surveyors

Sam Bunge, Registered Land Surveyor
U.S. Forest Service
P.O. Box 309
Petersburg, Alaska 99833
e-mail: Sam.Bunge/


This article provides a list of reference materials, tools, and skills which should be available to the field party operating in Alaska.


Registered as a land surveyor in four states, the author has completed 16 seasons of land surveying field work in Alaska, mostly in remote country in central Southeast (Petersburg - Wrangell and nearby islands). From this experience, plus service as a wildland and city firefighter and emergency medical technician, the author has generated a list of things to consider when planning field work. The author is also the chief of the Petersburg Volunteer Fire Department.

Short of writing a large textbook, there is no way to cover the area of safety in the field in Alaska in detail, so this paper will be a list of reference materials, tools, and sources for safety-related training. If practicing field-going land surveyors will send comments and suggestions, then this article will be updated and improved to become an active reference.


The OSH Act of 1970 requires employers to provide a workplace free from recognized hazards that are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees (the "general duty") and to comply with standards and rules issued under the Act. Employers must be familiar with the standards applicable to their industry; inspect their workplaces for hazards; ensure that employees have safe tools and personal protective equipment; establish and communicate safe operating procedures; provide necessary training; keep records; display posters; and more. OSHA (both the federal and the state agencies) can provide lots of job-specific advice. The Alaska State OSH office phone is (907) 269-4942. There are regional offices in Fairbanks, Kenai, Juneau, and Ketchikan. The federal OSHA office serving Alaska can be reached at (907) 271-5152.

Safety Policy - A firm's safety policy will be a list of rules covering what employees must do to deal with the hazards of the work. For example, "Workers in boats will always wear personal flotation devices." It should also explain how exployees report and deal with injuries and occupational illness. The firm will orient new employees when hired and all employees at the beginning of the field season.

Safety Plan - The safety plan explains in detail how to deal with the hazards of the workplace. Identify each hazard. Explain how employees are to eliminate, avoid, or deal with each hazard through special equipment, personal protective devices, and skills. The plan tells your folks how to carry out the policy.

Safety Training - Basic first aid and CPR are necessary for all Alaskan workers, so you can ask new workers to document these skills before hiring. But safety skills that are specialized should be provided by the firm.


Chain of Care - A basic concept in EMS (the emergency medical services) is the "chain of care." After an injury, competent first aid by the co-workers is just as important for the patient's outcome as the attentions of the medics at the local clinic or the surgeon in Seattle.

EMS Training - Alaska has an excellent EMS training program. Skilled EMTs, with basic life support equipment, are widely available. You need to find out in advance, how to contact the EMS organization closest to the work site. Consider "Emergency Trauma Technician" training for field folks. This 40 hour advanced first aid class is designed for people in Alaska's remote settings. It teaches basic injury assesment and stabilization and how to do a coherent medical report (so the medical evacuation folks know what to bring). Contact your regional EMS group to learn when an ETT class is scheduled. Southern Region EMS, 6130 Tuttle Place, Anchorage, 99507, (907) 562-6449, can tell you about ETT classes, or put you in touch with a local EMS training group.

Medical Incident Report - The people who will come to care for your patient will need certain facts, in a certain order:

1. "This is a medical emergency."

2. The patient is located at . . . [How do you describe your location to somebody who may not be familiar with the immediate area?]

3. General age and size of the patient.

4. Does the patient require a spine board, or can s/he ride sitting up?

5. What are the general nature of the injuries? Is the patient conscious?

Rehearse giving this report before the season begins. Who does it when the senior person is the injured one? It is especially difficult to describe your location.

Transport for Evacuation - What is the best means to get our patient to medical care? Frequently, the best means will not be a helicopter. Does the patient have head and spine injuries requiring full spinal immobilization? If so, do not move the patient. Let the trained rescuers handle that task. When trauma patients are rushed to town in the back of a pickup truck or in a skiff, without proper stabilization, the transport may result in paralysis.


Working Around Aircraft - Have the pilot shut down the engine, if possible. Have new folks rehearse climbing into and out of the aircraft. Never walk aft of the doors of a helicopter. Stay within the pilot's field of vision. Never walk uphill from a helicopter. Carry tools low. Secure all items to avoid foreign object damage to engines and rotor blades. Do not run or hurry.

Packaging of General and Hazardous Cargo - Package items in containers light enough for the pilot to pick up and stow. Pack well, expecting that delicate items will be jostled. No gas fuels ride with passengers. Place liquid fuels in DOT (UL) containers with some room to expand. See 49 CFR 172.101 for hazardous material transportation rules.

Preparation for a Non-scheduled Landing - Ask the pilot for a pre-flight briefing. Is your radio with you, or in the back of the plane?

Sling Cargo Under a Helicopter - Plan ahead to accomodate the load weight limits for the aircraft. Make it easy for the slinger to communicate with the pilot, to minimize the time spent under the hovering helicopter.

Preparing a Helicopter Landing Zone - Helicopters should not take off and land vertically. They need a glide path. They will land and take off into the wind. Keep this in mind when clearing the LZ and the approach and departure paths of tall obstacles. Give the helicopter a firm place to set down. Plan for a path for the passengers to approach and leave the aircraft safely. Create a wind sock to guide the pilot.


Operator Training - The US Coast Guard Auxiliary offers "Boating Skills and Seamanship" classes. Their textbook of the same name should be in every survey office library. Contact them at (907) 463-2246 for details about classes. The Coast Guard maintains a boating safety web site at "".

The Alaska Sea Grant College Program has published Marine Advisory Bulletin No. 41, titled "Beating the Odds on the North Pacific". This 240 page book is specifically dedicated to the theme of handling boats safely in Alaskan waters. Alaska Sea Grant publications are on the Internet at "".

Safety Equipment On Board -

1. Personal flotation device (vest or jacket or suit) for each person on board.

2. Throwable PFD.

3. Fire extinguisher.

4. Horn, lights.

5. Charts and tide table.

6. Spare propeller, fuel line, fuel filter, spark plugs, starter rope.

7. Tool kit (Is the adjustable wrench rusted shut?)

8. Signaling devices (flares, mirror, strobe light, portable radio)

9. Shore survival gear (matches, etc.)

10. Anchor with chain and line long enough for proper scope.

Weather - What is the local forcast? What extremes can the boat tolerate?

Communications - If the boat gets into trouble anywhere along its route, can the occupants reach somebody by radio?

Personal Flotation Devises - Garments lined with closed cell foam are more reliable than garments that rely on a pressurized cylinder to inflate a chamber. Inflatable plastic chambers, when worn in a coat in rough service, can be punctured or just deteriorate.

Loading the Boat - Secure the load. Shifting items can upset the boat or injure passengers. Does the load impede access to the engine? Does the load exceed the capacity of the boat in its current (used) condition. Old boats do not support as much weight as new boats.


OSHA Logging regulations - [see 29 CFR Part 1910.266] This regulation is written for logging operations. The sections on chainsaw equipment and operation probably apply to survey line clearing.

1. The chainsaw - The chainsaw should have a working chain brake. Test it. The chain should stop immediately after the throttle is released. A problem here is frequently caused by poor maintenance: dirty air cleaner or improper carburetor adjustments. Saw dealers sell chain designed to reduce kickback when cutting brush. The saw should have effective shock absorbers between the engine and the hand grips. There are several decent guides to chainsaw maintenance. A good one is "Chainsaw Savvy" by Neil Soderstrom.

2. Personal Protective Equipment - The sawyer should be wearing these items while working: Chainsaw chaps with ballistic nylon mesh that protect the front of the legs; cut-resistant boots, either heavy leather or armored with ballistic nylon mesh; protection for the head, the eyes, and the hearing. These last three concerns can be met by a sawyers hard hat which includes noise-dampening earmuffs and a wire mesh face screen mounted to it. Heavy gloves are essential. If the sawyer is working alone, s/he needs a means (probably a radio) to communicate with the rest of the crew in case of injury. Relying on the noise of the saw is not OK. Each sawyer should carry bandages big enough to control substantial bleeding. See the CFR for the contents of the first aid kit that must be available.

3. Safe Working Technique - Operating a chainsaw is not for dummies. It is interesting work that demands substantial skill. Improper sawing can injure workers by contact with the saw itself, by dropping trees or snags on people, or by leaving a "cleared" line full of sharp stumps ready to impale somebody. Two excellent books on chainsaw technique are: "Fallers' and Buckers' Handbook" by the Workers Compensation Board of British Columbia, phone (604) 273-2266; and "Professional Timber Falling, A Procedural Approach" by D. Douglas Dent, published by the author, phone 541-383-8944.

In addition to the hazards from being cut or being struck, sawyers experience back and joint damage from the vibrations and from carrying the weight of the saw out at the end of the arms. This damage can be helped by stretching, by rest breaks, by limiting the hours of operation, and by ergonomic work techniques. These techniques of resting the weight of the saw on the right thigh or on the work must be learned from observing a skillful veteran.

4. Helpers - A sawyer, who is concentrating on his/her work, and also making lots of noise, can not be expected to keep track of helpers working close by. The risk to the helper is much too severe to allow anybody to work closer than 15 feet to a sawyer.


Brown Bears and Black Bears - Nobody should work in the brush in Alaka without first reading Stephen Herrero's book, "Bear Attacks, Their Causes and Avoidance." Herrero is a bear biologist who has spent years studying bears to learn the patterns of their behavior. This is not a sensational collection of stories about bears taking scalps. It is a serious study to learn how to avoid dangerous encounters. In addition, the Ministry of Forests of British Columbia has produced an excellent video for folks who work in the woods, called "Bear Aware". You can reach the publisher, PanVideo Ltd., at 604-389-6781.

Polar Bears - The Dept. of Renewable Resources of Canada's Northwest Territories, phone (403-920-8066), published a manual by M. Bromley titled "Safety in Bear Country", which includes discussion of safety when working in the polar bear domain.

Safety concerning all bears is based on these points:

1. Keep a clean camp. Thoroughly burn all garbage. Do not attract bears.

2. Upon meeting a bear in the field, give the bear the right of way, and room to retreat.

3. If a bear is aware of you, move slowly out of its area. Be aware of the wind direction, because scent is the most important sense for a bear.

4. Avoid looking her in the eyes. Avoid sudden movements. Do not run.

5. If you can find an appropriate tree, climb up. A brown bear can reach up 15 feet.

6. Bears are fast! If the bear charges, you have two options: shoot to kill, if you are armed; or play dead, if you are not.

7. As for firearms, the US Forest Service requires its workers in brown bear country to carry a bolt-action, .375 H&H magnum rifle.

8. When to shoot - Most charging bears will veer off before contact - the false charge. The State Dept. of Fish & Game requires that a person killing a bear in defense of life must recover the head and hide and deliver them to the nearest ADF&G office. Alaskans place a high value on keeping a healthy population of bears in our wild country. For these reasons, it is important to wait until the charging bear is close - 50 feet. This also improves the accuracy of the shot.

9. Where to shoot - Do not aim for the head. The skull is very thick. Aim for the front shoulder or the center of the neck. If you wound the bear on the first shot, continue to fire at vital areas until there is no doubt that the bear is dead.

10. Beginners should not be firing large rifles at charging bears. Practice. Contact the National Rifle Association local chapter for classes in safe use of firearms.

11. Irritating sprays are no substitute for a large firearm. Consider the hazard created by a pressureized can of irritating spray going off in an aircraft. You need a strong, air-tight container before flying with these items.

Sea Lions - They can be aggressive on shore and in the water. Be aware.

Moose - They can be very aggressive and fast.

Walrus - The ADF&G Wildlife Notebook says that, "Walrus (with the exception of some young bulls) are usually not malicious, but their inquisitiveness, size, and great strength demand caution of those who approach them."

Insects - In addition to distracting us from working safely, insects can cause life-threatening allergic reactions in some persons who are especially sensitive. People who are sensitive to bee or hornet stings should carry anaphalaxis kits and instruct their crew mates how and when to administer the medicine.


The State of Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities has adopted Part VI "Standards for Work Zone Traffic Control" of the Federal Highway Administration's "Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices" to be the major part of the Alaska safety standards for working inside the travelled way. This publication is available from the American Traffic Safety Service Association. Contact them by phone at 703-898-5400 or on the Internet at "". The Alaska DOT&PF has published a special "Alaska Supplement" to the Part VI Standards which can be ordered from them at 907-465-2960.

Before putting a survey crew out on the highway with the moose, the armadillos, and the skunks, the boss needs to consider:

1. Can the data be acquired in an alternative way, without occupying the highway?

2. Schedule the highway portion of the work when traffic is lightest, but not at night.

3. Wear high-visibility clothing and hats.

4. Set up warning signs several hundred feet in advance of the workers. For details, see Part VI.

5. Post a lookout whose sole duty is to watch the traffic.

6. Keep in mind that traffic warning devises are only an attempt to communicate with drivers. High-visibility clothing and signs do not provide any barrier to protect workers.

7. A highway lane closing may only be authorized by by the Maintenance Chief of the appropriate region, Northern, Central, or Southeast. The chief will have firm ideas about scheduled hours for the closure and about signs and barriers.


Surveyors should not work alone in the field.

The Alaska Sea Grant College Program, in cooperation with the US Coast Guard, has published an excellent series of videos, designed for fishing boat crew members, on these topics: sea survival (how to abandon ship), shore survival, hypothermia, and cold water near-drowning. Their office can be phoned at (907) 474-6707.

At the start of each new project, be sure that each worker knows what direction to travel, if lost or separated. Be sure that s/he knows how to determine that direction (compass bearing, follow a stream, go downhill, etc.) Can each member of the party show their location on the topographic map, and also point out where camp (or civilization) lies?

Most Alaskans always carry some personal survival gear when in the brush, so they can survive overnight or a few days. Do you know that each person has shelter and matches at all times?

Can folks who are lost or separated communicate with aircraft or boats? Do they have signal mirrors, fire starting materials, a high-visibility orange cloth panel, lights, a radio?


The federal OSHA has issued a set of regulations concerning temporary labor camps. See 29 CFR Part 1910.142 (at on the Internet). These regulations cover the field camp considerations of: site selection, crowding, shelter (bunks, building construction, windows & doors, heating), water supply, toilets, laundry & bathing, refuse disposal, food service, health and first aid.


Whenever we use materials that can cause injury or disease if spilled, inhaled, ingested, or absorbed through the skin, we must have the appropriate Material Safety Data Sheets on hand. These data sheets are shipped by the manufacturer with the product. Substances that we commonly use, such as boundary paint, propane, gasoline, photocopy toner, and pepper spray can cause harm if misapplied. What should I do if I spill this stuff on me? Look it up on the MSD Sheet. An OSHA inspector will ask to see the MSDS for every substance s/he finds stored or in use.


Finally, although a clumsy surveyor might tip the coffee pot over on himself, since we are now securely in the Digital Age, our neat, paper-less offices should have eliminated forever that dreaded scourge, the hateful paper cut.

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