Safety in Surveying
The Bureau of Labor Statistics and the National Safety Council list construction labor, mining, well drilling, logging and trucking as some of the most dangerous occupations. Land surveyors work on mines, drilling fields, logging fields, heavy construction projects, residential and highway construction projects and face the same safety risks. You will commonly find a land surveyor standing in the middle of a busy street sighting through a transit at a survey target blocks away while cars zoom by on each side or hiking through treacherous terrain to a distant survey site.
Jobs that require land surveys are often located far from roads on undeveloped land, requiring the survey parties to hike for hours over rough terrain and rappel down cliffs to place a survey target. Other survey jobs involve working close to heavy machinery under scaffolding or steel framework, with beams being placed by a construction crane and workers above dropping tools. Other jobs require standing in moving traffic. Each job presents its own set of deadly hazards, so insurance companies, unions and state and municipal institutions have developed extensive safety procedures for survey crews to follow.
Types of Hazards
A survey party might encounter rattlesnakes, cougars, bears, falling tree limbs, falling rocks, falling hand tools, falling construction materials, drunk or distracted motorists, lightning and flash floods. Heat exhaustion and frostbite are additional risks, depending on the weather and location. Simple falls due to tripping over uneven terrain while walking or while giving full attention to sighting through a transit are common. Injuries incurred by slamming a hammer down on a thumb or leg, or back injuries from carrying heavy survey equipment and packs are also common.
The hard hat has long been a staple of land surveyor safety equipment, along with bright colored reflective vests, gloves, and snake-proof hiking boots. Heavy denim or ranger whipcord pants protect against trail-side thorns and sharp objects on construction sites. Canteens and bottled water are vital to keep the crew properly hydrated while working outside in the sun, and strong canvas umbrellas and pop-ups made for outdoor industrial use provide shade. Every survey crew is expected to carry a first aid kit, snake bite kit and insect sting kit with antihistamines to protect against allergic reactions if a worker is bitten in the field. For the times when climbing is necessary, steel cable safety rope is required. There are also procedures for placing safety equipment such as traffic cones and signs.
Safety equipment should be as light in weight as possible because it may be carried long distances while hiking in to a remote construction site or from a truck parked in a distant parking lot when working at an urban construction site. Vehicles must be in safe working condition to keep from stranding the survey crew on a lonely road way out in the desert. Communications equipment such as phones, radios and GPS should be checked before embarking on a remote survey.
The party chief is responsible for the safety of his crew. Many land surveyors fancy themselves proud outdoorsmen and can be reckless in their adherence to safety rules, but for the most part, experienced surveyors are careful of their own safety. Special safety training should be given to any inexperienced hires, even if they have received safety training in school or as a part of their licensing.