UCL Department of Geography



This page contains links to various policies and procedures designed to keep you and the people you're working with safe while you work at the Department of Geography

Visit the links below for more information on Safety in the Department of Geography.

UCL Corporate Safety Policy

The UCL Statement of Safety Policy can be viewed at:

Read the policy

The Department is committed to ensuring all Departmental activities will be carried out in a safe manner in accordance to this policy.

Safety Management Structure

Senior Departmental staff and unit managers/supervisors have responsibility for Health and Safety management in the Department. Departmental Safety Officers have the responsibility for monitoring the implementation of Departmental health and safety policy and reporting their findings to the Head of Department.

Key People

Professor Jason DittmerUnit Manager j.dittmer@ucl.ac.uk
Dr Handong YangDepartment Radiation Officerhandong.yang@ucl.ac.uk
Miles IrvingSenior Fire Marshallm.irving@ucl.ac.uk
Safety Committee

Any safety issues can be reported to any member of the Departmental Safety Committee and they will be raised at their regular meetings. The Committee reports directly to the Head of the Department and the termly Staff Meeting. Recommendations on the implementation of policy arising from these issues will be made to the Management Committee by the Safety Committee. The committee will meet once per term under normal circumstances with extra-ordinary meetings when necessary. The Departmental Safety Committee consists of:

  • Professor Jason Dittmer: Head of Department
  • Ajay Chauhan: Computer Support
  • Maria Rodriguez: Research and Facilities
  • Nick Mann: Deputy Departmental Safety Officer
  • Dr Handong Yang: Radiation Officer
  • Miles Irving: Senior Fire Evacuation Marshal
  • Professor Tariq Jazeel: Human Geography

If there are any safety issues that you would like to raise, please contact one of the above committee members.

The remit of the committee is:

To assist and advise the Head of the  Department on planning, prioritisation and implementation of measures to manage the risks of departmental activities, the Head of Department should constitute a Departmental Safety Committee or management group whose size and constitution should be commensurate with the magnitude of the risk and complexity of departmental activity. Where appropriate,and especially in smaller departments, health and safety matters should be considered regularly at departmental management meetings. The role of the committee will cover the following:

Ensuring significant risks are being managed effectively Developing actions to meet corporate and departmental safety objectives Developing a programme of active monitoring (visits, checks and inspections) and the recording of significant findings and improvement actions. Establishing communication and consultation arrangements with staff, including where appropriate, local union safety committees. Establishing effective communication and co-operation arrangements with other parties in shared workplaces. Monitor and review health and safety performance through quarterly reporting which should include:

  • Progress against health and safety action plans
  • Accidents and incidents trends, investigations and lessons learned
  • Work-related ill-health statistics and trends
  • Analysis from active monitoring including schedules, responsibilities,
  • Training and risk assessments
  • Contractors' and partners' performance
  • Key risks and issues
  • Health and safety training needs and completion of courses
  • Issues to be escalated to other forums 
Risk Assessments

All activities both within the Department and on Fieldwork must be covered by a current risk assessment. Templates are provided for various types of risk assessment. Please ensure you use the correct template. Once completed, a signed copy should be lodged with the Deputy Safety Officer or where appropriate uploaded to the relevant Moodle pages. Off-site and Fieldwork Risk Assessments should also be accompanied by the appropriate checklist provided on the safety services webpage. Risk assessments for lab procedures can be found on the lab web pages. 

More information can be found in the links below:

Introduction to Risk Assessment

Fieldwork Risk Assessment

Fieldwork Risk Assessment - Forms and Files

Risk Assessment and Project Funding

"The safety implications of any research project must be assessed before a funding application is submitted. The cost of all the required safety measures implicit in the research proposal must be included in the grant application eg, life jackets, safety goggles, travel and subsistence money for at least two people to go on fieldwork, thus avoiding dangerous lone working, etc. "

The above paragraph is taken from the Departmental Safety Policy. In order to comply with these guidelines, it is essential that risks involved in research work are assessed before funding is applied for. It is obvious that, in the early stages of planning, this cannot be carried out in any great detail, it is enough to identify control measures which have cost implications and to take these into consideration when applying for funding; you must have enough information on the project to know whether any specialist training or equipment is required.

This first risk assessment is for the purpose of identifying the resource implications of carrying out the work proposed according to the safe working practices adopted by the department and in line with current legislation. A further full and detailed risk assessment must be carried out prior to commencing work. If there are resource implications, the source of these must be identified and an estimate prepared of the likely costs to be claimed from each. The department cannot undertake to make any contribution to such costs unless the expenditure is approved at the time of submitting the research proposal

In order to carry out this assessment, a template is provided in the forms and files section that can be downloaded and typed into.

After Hours and Lone Working Policy

This section gives details of the Departmental Policy on working outside of recognised Department opening hours and also contains a downloadable permission form for post-graduate students. Anyone working out-of-hours is expected to have a good working knowledge of the Safety Arrangements for the Department, since they may be the first to discover something that requires action.


No after-hours working is allowed in the Basement Laboratory. In the event of members of the Department working alone (defined as out of eyesight of another colleague) after 7pm, or at weekends, they should inform security of their presence and of their departure. Access cards used on entry to the Department will alert the Communications Room to your presence in the building. However, as they are not used on exit, your departure will not be recorded. Equally, if access to the building has been gained during the normal working day (without the use of a card), your presence in the building will not be recorded.

Postgraduate Research Students (MPhil/PhD)

Graduate students should have written permission from their supervisors to work outside of normal hours. The permission will be granted only for activities listed on their permit.  Out-of-hours access will only be granted to those students who have obtained such permission. Lone working is not allowed for graduate students within the Department after 7pm or at weekends. At such times there must be someone else within eyesight or calling distance. Graduate students should make arrangements with their colleagues or supervisor prior to coming into the building to ensure that this policy is adhered to and may expect to be asked to leave the building by security if found working alone. Persistent offenders will have their out-of-hours access revoked

Graduate Taught Students (Masters) and Undergraduate Students

No after-hours working is allowed. For Masters students "Out-of-Hours" is defined as being after 7pm or before 8am. For undergraduates, it is defined as before 9am or after 5pm. Undergraduate students have card access to the department between 9am and 5pm. They must leave the Department at 5pm unless they are with their tutor or another member of the Academic staff. Masters students may work until 7pm on the condition that their supervisor is present at all times.

Permission for Graduate Research Students to work outside normal hours

Graduate research students must obtain written permission from their supervisor if they wish to work after 7pm or at weekends. Supervisors should only grant this permission if they feel the student is competent to work unsupervised or if they are willing to remain with their student after hours in order to supervise their work. Only work listed on the form is permissible. Any other work must be authorised separately. The permission must contain the proviso that the student is within eyesight or calling distance of another person whilst in the Department. Graduate students should not, under normal circumstances, remain in the building overnight. If students are in the department after hours, without permission, responsibility for any problems that may arise rests with the supervisor.

Permission to work outside of Department working hours (.doc)

Arrangements for management of Hazards and Activities

Details are given of Codes of Practice, Departmental Guidelines and contacts and recommended control measures for activities carried out for/by members of the Department. These written arrangements for the Department of Geography have been drawn up under the authority of the Head of Department to correspond with the work hazards and activities under his control. The Head of Department hereby acknowledges that he is responsible to the Provost and President for the implementation of UCL’s corporate health and safety arrangements wherever they apply to the department.

Visit the index

Computer Use

A risk assessment for the use of computers can be found in the forms and files section.

Planning Display Screen Work

It is important to plan display screen work to provide regular breaks or changes of activity. It is self-evident that the longer people work at a display screen, the more fatigued they will become and the less productive they will be. Breaks, ideally before the onset of symptoms, can reduce fatigue or help to avoid it completely as well as maintain productivity.

Prolonged display screen work, like any other visually demanding work, is tiring on the eyes. Breaks or changes of activity are necessary to allow users to focus at a distance and relax their eye muscles. Most of the visual work takes place with the eyes focused at around 500 to 600 mm. Opportunities to re-focus at a distance restore the natural longer focus of the eyes and reduce muscle tension.

Display screen work also encourages fixed postures. Using the keyboard virtually fixes the position of the hands. Reading the screen determines the head position and sitting on a chair locates the rest of the body. There is little scope for movement and with increasing facilities available through computer systems, little opportunity for the incidental breaks which accompanied paperwork, eg collecting files, changing the paper in typewriters, referring to ledgers and so on.

To make matters worse, the postures people are forced to adopt when using displays are sometimes awkward and involve twisting and stretching as people adjust themselves to suit the technology and workstation layout. But even when seated, the muscle system has to work to support the head, hold the body upright, keep the arms and hands in the right position to operate keyboards and so on. Surprisingly, this static muscle work is more tiring than the dynamic muscle work involved in walking, lifting and moving about. In static postures, there is less opportunity for the chemical by-products from muscle contraction and extension of muscles to be flushed away and they build up and produce pain.

A further reason for introducing breaks or changes of activity is to reduce stress by interrupting the intense concentration which often characterises display screen work. Many people find computers almost addictive and get 'carried away' not realising that they have been working intensely at the screen for several hours. Unfortunately, the short-term productivity gains tend to be diminished by the fatigue and discomfort that such patterns of work produced.

Thus introducing breaks or changes of activity (which use different skills, muscles, postures etc) not only contributes to user health and well-being but actually increases productivity.

What breaks are required?

Early research on working time at display screens looked at how performance and discomfort were affected by up to four hours of work. This was the maximum period of time studied in the experiments. The results showed that after four hours of work subjects were tired.

These findings have been used to substantiate the view that four hours should be the maximum amount of time for display screen work. However, such an arbitrary period of work time is inappropriate for several reasons.

First, work at a display screen varies enormously in intensity, visual and mental load and postural strain. Some display screen work is so demanding that breaks are required after 30 minutes eg air traffic control. Other work is a little different from any other office-type activity.

Secondly, there is considerable research evidence that it is not only the total time that is important but also the pattern of work. Thus short, frequent, breaks taken before the onset of fatigue may allow users to work without problems for a normal working day. For example, a 5 to 10-minute break after 50 to 60-minute intensive display screen work is likely to be more effective than a 15-minute break after 2 hours. Indeed, even a 1 to 2-minute break, taken at the workstation can be recuperative and avoid the build-up of fatigue.

However, the responsibility to plan display screen work does not imply a need for a precise timetable of display screen work and breaks. Providing a degree of flexibility and some training to encourage users to organise their own work patterns will not only satisfy the statutory requirements but is likely to be more productive and effective.

Suitable Activities in Breaks

It should be obvious that the changes in activity or breaks must involve different types of activity, postures and skills. It is certainly not appropriate to regard switching from display screen work to playing a computer game or reading electronic mail on the same type of equipment as a suitable break.

Similarly, non-display screen work may involve similar postures or skills and therefore what is required is a completely different activity. Staff who work intensively on keyboards may find that activities such as knitting during breaks do not provide sufficient relaxation for the arms and wrists. Tea and coffee breaks are obviously helpful but again care should be taken to avoid excessive consumption of caffeine or clearly unhealthy activities such as smoking if the objective is to protect and promote health.

The diagram below shows some stretching exercises which could help prevent RSI.


Assess Your Working Environment

Off-Site Working - including fieldwork and Conferences

UCL safety services have published guidelines to cover Off-site and Fieldwork Safety. When planning fieldwork you are obliged to follow these and complete the checklists.

Overseas working (.pdf)

UK Checklist (.pdf)

Hotel fire safety (.pdf)

Safety Induction for Staff and Graduate students

Safety induction is mandatory for all new staff, and students embarking on a PhD/MPhil. Please read the requirements listed here.

There are four parts to the induction training:

  1. Local Safety Induction - This is carried out within the department by the line manager or supervisor. At the beginning of each academic year, the DSO will deliver this training for all new Ph.D./M.Phil. students in a timetabled slot during induction week. If a student cannot attend this session, the training should be completed by their supervisor as soon as possible after their starting date.
  2. Online induction training - This takes the form of a Moodle module (UCL Safety Induction) and is a more general induction. Once completed, a certificate of completion can be downloaded. This should be sent to the DSO as evidence that the induction training has been carried out.
  3. Fire evacuation training - This is carried out within the building where the worker is based and involves a walk around the building, identifying fire exits, fire doors and local rules for alerting the fire brigade if a fire is discovered. This training must be refreshed annually and a new form (TN086) submitted to the DSO to be kept on file.
  4. Basic Fire Safety - Again this takes the form of an online Moodle module and must be completed every three years by all staff and GFraduate (Research) students. The downloadable certificate obtained at the end should be sent to the DSO as evidence of completion.

Graduate students should note that permission to work outside of normal working hours will not be granted until all parts of the induction are completed.

Further details on induction are available through Moodle - Please note that "Legacy Moodle" may not contain the latest information. Please follow the guidance given on "New Moodle". Module name - "Geography Staff Induction"; enrolment key - "induction".

You must have a valid UCL login to gain access to Moodle.