Stanford University

Buddy System for Field Work

Working alone in the field should be avoided if at all possible and mitigated if not. The dynamic nature of field environments present increased risks, and these risks are heightened when working alone because help may not be readily available.

A buddy system reduces the risk of certain tasks by ensuring another person is capable of assisting if someone becomes injured or incapacitated in the course of their field work. There are several methods for implementing a buddy system in the field.  One of the following buddy systems must be used based on the risk level of field locations and planned tasks. Different buddy systems may be utilized at different points in the fieldwork based on the activities being performed.  For example, a researcher may use a live remote buddy system for on-trail work, but an in-person buddy system while off trail or performing higher hazard activities.

  • In-person buddy system*: For most field work, another person must be within range to be seen or heard.
  • Live remote buddy system*: For some low risk tasks and locations,  if there is another person nearby (can arrive  in 1 hour or less to assist) AND you have a reliable means of instant communication with them (e.g., radio,  walkie-talkies, cell phones + cell service) you may coordinate to serve as one another’s buddy. Check in with your buddy regularly (e.g., every 1-2 hours).  Carry a charger or other battery backup.
  • Asynchronous remote buddy system*: For a small subset of very low risk tasks and locations, it may be acceptable to have a designated “check in” buddy whom you tell where you are working, what you are doing, when they should expect you to check in, and what to do if you do not check in at the appointed time. If you do not check in, you may instruct your buddy to call you, call a member of your household, call your PI, and/ or call an appropriate authority (all emergency contact names and telephone numbers should be listed on your field safety plan).

*Similar to work in laboratories, a written safety plan is required for any fieldwork. This plan must include provisions for a reliable means of communication (cell phone, sat phone, or satellite texting device), an emergency response plan, and risk assessments for critical tasks (consider what can go wrong and how adverse impacts can be eliminated or reduced). Review the safety plan and choice of buddy system with the Principal Investigator/Supervisor prior to conducting the field work.


Types of Locations Example Activities
Moderate to High Risk:

Use In-Person Buddy System

Remote locations >1 hr total (hike + drive out)  to emergency services

Overnight stays outside of developed areas (e.g., remote camping) 

Locations with unpredictable/ inclement weather

Locations with security concerns

  • private homes
  • areas with civil unrest/security concerns

Locations on or near water

  • Intertidal zones, beaches near surf, rivers, lakes, wetlands, etc.
  • Hiking  off-trail  (e.g., out of sight of trail, vehicle, or road)
  • Animal handling
  • Working at heights
  • Working near fall hazards of 30″ or greater height
  • Using power tools or blades (e.g.,chainsaws, knives, machetes)
  • Swimming/snorkeling
  • Working from boats
  • Working at high altitude
  • Confined space work
  • Any other moderate to high hazard activities
  • Any other moderate to high hazard activities
Low Risk:

At minimum use Live Remote Buddy System

Moderately remote (<1 hr to emergency services)  low hazard field locations

  • On-trail or within developed facilities of Jasper Ridge or other field station
  • Short distances on well maintained public trails
  • Work with hand tools
  • Hiking on-trail (in easy terrain and mild weather)
  • 1-on-1 interviews in public locations
Very Low Risk:

At minimum use Asynchronous Remote Buddy System

Local field locations in developed areas

  • Stanford lands (Lake Lagunita, the Dish)
  • Public parks/beaches
  • On/adjacent to paved public roads (in sight of vehicles)
  • Photographing
  • Surveying/GPS
  • Collecting soil/plant/rock samples
  • NO handling of animals or hazardous chemicals

Back to Top

Download full instructions here ->