As a bat worker, you should feel confident that you can undertake your role safely. It is your safety as an individual that comes first over anything else. Site visits can be dangerous, so every effort should be made to identify possible hazards and risks. A hazard is something that can be harmful, whilst a risk is the chance that a hazard could cause harm. After you have completed this you should define control measures to ensure that you are as safe as possible. Once on site, you should continue to assess the situation, and abort the visit if you feel unsafe at any time.

Always ask yourself: “Can I achieve my objectives without entering a hazardous space?” And if you must attend a site: “Have I done all that I can do to mitigate the risks?”

As with any situation you will need to assess the risks and decide upon the course of action that is required at the time. Your employer is responsible for your safety, and you are responsible for your own safety and the safety of those around you. You should therefore ensure that you have the correct insurance and have undertaken, or have access to, a risk assessment for every site that you visit. This will make sure that you and the team have considered all the hazards, assessed their level of severity against their likelihood, and put in place appropriate control measures that will keep you and those around you safe.

When you undertake a risk assessment you should consider the hazards, who may be harmed, how harm may be caused, evaluate the risk (severity vs likelihood), decide on controls, and re-evaluate your risk assessment periodically. By following this guidance you should be able to ensure that you have accounted for all hazards and are confident that you can proceed safely.

As a bat worker you will come across a range of environments at various times of the day. We have gathered some advice, for you, for a range of situations, and hope that it is helpful.

Lone working

One of the most likely situations that you will find yourself in is lone working in a variety of environments. This is not ideal and should be avoided at all costs in certain circumstances, such as, attending a demolition site or venturing underground. According to the HSE there are 6.8 million people working alone in the UK, and that the definition of a lone worker is someone that works remotely ‘without close or direct supervision’. The definition encompasses those who work outside normal hours, in a location away from a central office or emergency services, and those who travel alone or enter someone’s home alone. As a bat worker you will undoubtably find yourself outside, and in different locations a lot of the time, and so will encounter a range of factors that are out of your control. It is important to stay alert and be prepared for changing conditions. Indeed, it is worth being especially vigilant in areas that are associated with incidents or accidents. Also, bear in mind that if you are listening to bat calls, you need to be more visually aware of your surroundings. As with any lone working situation it is sensible to tell someone about your whereabouts, schedules and update them if you are going to be late back. It is helpful if your workplace has a buddy system for this purpose. Two more things to considered are that mobile signal may be weak and the purchase of a personal alarm may be an extra precaution.

Working outside

When undertaking any task outside there are some hazards that you are unable to predict, such as prevailing weather conditions, limited mobile signal, unmapped terrain, and temperamental animals.

Strong winds can cause the movement of objects, both small and large, from dust to wall materials or defective trees. Torrential rain and ice can reduce visibility (ie when driving) and turn a stable surface in to one that is slippery. Flash floods can prove extremely dangerous where underground work is concerned and may result in unexpected water sinks on a surface that is ordinarily dry. With rain and wind comes the potential for lightning, with strikes causing electrocution, explosions, and fires, as well as having the ability to fell a tree. Meanwhile, foggy weather can reduce visibility and shorten the distance that sound can travel. Hot and cold temperatures are associated with a range of hazards, with exposure being the most dangerous to health.

Mobile signals can be a big problem for those that find themselves in a risky situation or state of emergency. You can be prepared for this by checking network coverage for a postcode area. You can often find out about scheduled maintenance and can renew your network connection by restarting your device. It may be worth considering using a satellite phone and GPS locator.

Unmapped locations in the UK are few and far between (if in existence at all) however if you feel that this applies to you it is worth working with a guide that is well acquainted with the area.

Temperamental animals can be unexpected if they are wild, or somewhat anticipated if they are domesticated. The best thing to do is to give animals space so that they can go about their normal activities. Try to be vigilant, whilst taking care to move around calmly. If possible, go around them, and be especially careful in breeding season when an animal will be protective of its young. If you enter a space with an occupied bee, wasp, or hornet nest you should abort the visit.

Working around vertical structures

When you work with bats, it is inevitable that you will need to work at height at some point. According to the Bat Conservation Trust the entry height of a roost can be 2-7m from the ground. The phrase working at height refers to any situation where a person could fall for a distance and suffer injury. The HSE recognise that working at height is one of the biggest causes of major injury, or even fatality. The two most common locations from which you can fall, are around buildings and trees. More specifically, it is when you are using a ladder or traversing a roof space. It is also possible to fall through the floor of an underground space.

When working on a ladder you need to make sure that you are aware of your surroundings and ensure that the ladder meets EN 131 and is fit for purpose. Make sure that you are aware of hazards such as a blind-spots, movement of people and vehicles, and as previously stated, weather conditions and exposure to the elements. Another important factor to consider is the material that the ladder is supported by. In terms of scaling a tree, via a ladder, it is important to check that you have placed the ladder against a sound trunk, rather than one that is not stable or against a limb.

If necessary, it is possible to take the advice of an arboriculturist who has methods of checking for internal rot. They can do this simply with a rubber mallet, core sample or with sonic tomography. You can also make a judgement by looking out for hollows, cracks, rot holes, and loose bark that are indicative of veteran trees. This is not always reliable however due to hidden disease within younger specimens. Indeed, it is worth taking note of mushroom bodies at the tree base and a growth habit where the tree is leaning unnaturally and is unbalanced. When you have deduced that the tree trunk is in sound condition it is advisable to have an assistant hold the ladder. You should be prepared with a safety helmet and a bag for equipment. A piece of cloth or rubber can be secured to the upper rung to help with slippage prevention.  Other hazards that you should be aware of are trees shedding branches, uneven ground, thorns, and hanging or damaged limbs. Similarly, when working in and around buildings it is advisable to considered what surface you are placing your ladder against.

According to the HSE the ladder should be placed at 75°, one metre out for every four metres of height, and extend one metre beyond the landing platform. As with working around trees, it is advisable to keep your hands free by storing any equipment in a bag. Indeed, if you climb any ladder you should try to do this and try to keep your body in line with the ladder with minimal reaching over.

Before climbing assess the area for overhead power lines and telephone cables. Once inside a building, wires and cables can be a hazard for other reasons. Within a roof void electric wiring may be draped over joists and should be avoided and reported to the building occupier if you believe it to be unsafe (where you may be at risk from electrocution or fire).

Other hazards can include the presence of asbestos which is synonymous with old buildings. You should be assured that asbestos is not present before you attend site. If you suspect asbestos is present you should abort your visit and inform the builder occupier. Take care around insulation which can be irritating to your skin and respiratory system. It is advised that you wear coveralls, a dust mask and eye protection where necessary. Another irritant can come in the form of timber treatment, which is hazardous when you can smell it and see it (wood appears wet or moist).

If you must undertake your visit, make sure that this decision is aligned to post-treatment entry advice, and ensure that you always wear rubber gloves and full protective clothing. After your visit be sure to wash any skin that has been exposed to the toxic residues.

It is worth noting that decay residues can persist in the dust and debris.

It is possible to become sensitised with respiratory irritation and dermatitis as a result. These treatments are often applied as a solution to woodworm which can rapidly damage timber. In view of this, you should always be aware of how sound woodwork is in a roof void. Along with rot and woodworm infested timber you may also come across lath and plaster, plasterboards, or corrugated cement sheets (on the roof of industrial or farm buildings) that are inherently brittle. A roof should be traversed via a crawl board, whilst a roof void involves moving carefully across sound joists (horizontal structural member) whilst keeping a hold of trusses (roof support framework). Whilst moving around be aware of nails and splinters protruding from woodwork and of loose bricks and stonework. It is worth protecting yourself from injury by wearing overalls/coveralls, tough gloves, industrial steel toe capped boots, dust mask, baseball bump cap/hard hat (BS EN 397), eye protection (BS 2092), head torch and bag (carrying binoculars, portable radio communication, first aid kit, route marking tape, a spare torch, emergency procedures, and initial appraisal of hazards). If necessary, make sure that you are accompanied by a site supervisor, where applicable, especially in the case of demolition sites.

Working in confined spaces and underground

Working underground or in confined spaces should be undertaken by those that are proficient in these environments. An individual should always work in a team of six, with four entering an underground space, and two people providing support from the site entrance. If a member of the team is injured, two people should go for help and one individual should remain with the injured party. Even though there is a team of you, you should always inform another person of your whereabouts and schedule. Caves, culverts, mines, and tunnels are full of hazards including, an unstable floor, shafts, rotten timber, areas of deep water, old timber or metalwork, radon (chronic exposure is harmful), exposure to extreme temperature, and the presence of gas that may displace oxygen or explode. Equipment in this environment should include gas monitoring meters, vapour sealed lights, lifelines/harnesses/ropes, and a survival bag with food and water. You should dress in a manner that keeps you warm and dry (such as a wet suit or waders, fleece under-suit, thermal and wellies). A hard hat (BS EN 397), eye protection (BS 2092), and safety boots are also recommended. Vertical shafts in these situations should only be entered by those that are proficient underground workers. Indeed, entering underground sites should be undertaken with the help of a map or guide, as getting lost can happen easily.

Working in and around watercourses

As you know, bats can be found along watercourses (rivers, canals, and brooks) and near water bodies (lakes, reservoirs, and gravel pits), which they use for foraging and commuting across the landscape. They also utilise waterside structures, culverts, and bridges for resting and roosting. As a bat worker you will undoubtedly come across watercourses and should be aware of the dangers, which includes drowning at the top of the list. Other hazards include encountering water contaminated with chemicals and biological agents (pollution/disease/carcasses/excrement/algae), impact or contact with submerged objects (debris/plants), insect bites, exposure to extreme temperatures (hypothermia/heatstroke), strong currents, deep water, ledges and recesses, slippery surfaces, remote working, and slips, trips and falls. The best thing that you can do is to be aware of dangers, know your limits, and work with another individual or within a team, with access to a waterproof form of communication. First aid kits should be available, along with a first aider. Lifebuoys should be 50m away (maximum) and life jackets worn when the situation dictates. PPE should be worn to ensure that exposure to biological and chemical substances is avoided, and so that you are kept warm and dry.

You should follow advice given above for working around trees, buildings, and confined spaces if you happen to be working in and around these environments near a watercourse. It is advisable that you stay out of the water and take care when walking around the edge. If you are working around a canal avoid getting into a lock due to the risk imposed by heavy gates moving unexpectedly. Be aware that weirs have strong currents that can drag an individual under the water. Take care around sluices as you can be washed downstream. If you or a member of the team falls into water and cannot get out easily, it is advisable that the person on the bank guides the person in the water to safety, through instruction and the use of a rope or floatation device. Once out of the water it is important to get dry and warm as quickly as possible.

Diseases and other biological agents

Working with bats comes with the risk of being bitten, with a chance of being infected with zoonotic disease rabies from bats that have European Bat Lyssavirus (EBLV-1 and EBLV-2). This chance seems low given that, according to the Bat Conservation Trust, only one human case has been recorded in the UK. The possibility is still there, however, and so should be included in any risk assessments. Transmission of the disease occurs when a person is scratched or bitten, or saliva contacts mucosal membranes. Generally, bats are not aggressive and so there is very little risk from being bitten or scratched when handling them. If you are scratched or bitten, or encounter fluids, the area should be washed with soap and water for five minutes. Disinfectant or an alcohol-based wash should also be used. Medical attention should then be sought. Workers that handle bats on a regular basis should be vaccinated against rabies, with vaccinations for ecologists being paid for by their employer. In rare instances it is possible to have a reaction to dust (droppings) and a gastro-intestinal infection (consumption of droppings). This can be avoided by wearing PPE and maintaining good hygiene.

Tetanus is rare in the UK, however, if you become infected with the bacteria it can release a toxin that can cause the muscles to spasm. The bacteria Clostridium tetanii can infect an individual through cuts and grazes, splits in the skin, burns, animal bites, and eye injuries. Symptoms include a high temperature, localised muscle pain that spreads with time, and painful muscle spasms and lockjaw. It is worth making sure that you are fully vaccinated and that you seek medical advice should you have concerns about a wound.

Much like tetanus, Weil’s Disease is caused by a bacteria Leptospira, and is also referred to as Leptospirosis. This is something to be aware of if you work around soil or water and can infect you through contact with your mouth, eyes, or a cut. You may also become contaminated on contact with infected animal blood or flesh. Symptoms often include a high temperature, a hot or shivery feeling, feeling or being sick, muscle and joint aches, red eyes and a loss of appetite. In line with the NHS, medical advice is vital if you feel that you have been infected. Indeed, due to this diseases ability to affect major organs you should seek urgent advice if you have jaundice, swollen ankles, feet or hands, chest pain and shortness of breath, and are coughing up blood. Your GP will prescribe an antibiotic unless you have a severe infection, in which case you will need to attend a hospital.

Those of you who work in grassy and wooded areas in may need to be aware of Lyme’s Disease which is transmitted through a tick vector. You can normally spot a tick embedded in your skin as it looks like a small sphere on the surface. You can usually remove them carefully with a tick remover or tweezers but must take care to remove them whole and clean the bite with antiseptic or soap and water. When a tick carries Lyme’s Disease you will notice the onset of flu-like symptoms accompanied by a circular red rash (although this is not always obvious). Seek medical advice and be sure to explain to your practitioner that you have been in a grassy or wooded area.

There are hygiene precautions that you should take alongside wearing the appropriate PPE, which includes covering open wounds with waterproof plasters, washing hands regularly and avoiding contamination with droppings, excrement, saliva, and water (rivers, canals, and lakes). Another precaution may be having a shower as soon as possible to ensure that any exposed skin is clean and pathogen free. It is always worth keeping vaccinations up to date. If you believe that you have encountered a biological agent that can cause disease and believe that you are displaying the associated symptoms you should seek medical advice.

As well as diseases you may encounter poisonous plants which can either be harmful to touch or upon ingestion. It is unlikely that you will eat a plant, so it is possibly more useful in becoming appraised of those that are poisonous to the touch. Some species include Lords-and-ladies (Arum maculatum), Monkshood (Aconitum napellus), Giant hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum), to name a few.

Please note that this advice is not extensive and you should seek to learn more where possible.