Risk assessment is an important part of planning and carrying out your project in Ny-Ålesund.
In connection with field work you need to consider the rapidly changing and sometimes extreme weather conditions, the physical environment (glacier crevasses, avalanches, drifting icebergs, unstable sea-ice), the fauna (e.g. polar bears) and the limited search and rescue capacity, poor communications coverage etc.
Even though you may not be leaving Ny-Ålesund itself, you have to think about safety when working in the laboratories.
The Governor of Svalbard’s web site provides guides and field logs which might be helpful when planning your fieldwork.
The University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS) provides useful information related to Health, Safety and Environment (HSE). UNIS also operates the Arctic Safety Centre, and offers safety courses which address risks and challenges particularly relevant to the Arctic and to Svalbard.
Contact UNIS for further information
Any researcher or research group with activity in Ny-Ålesund is responsible for her/his/their own safety (unless the institution hosting the activities takes this responsibility and for example accompanies research team out in the field).
All institutions and/or visiting researchers should take an active role in analyzing and managing risk in order to prevent accidents or injuries associated with activities, to minimise any negative impact on the environment, and to ensure a safe work environment.
A thorough risk assessment could include the following steps:
- Risk identification and assessment – What can go wrong?
- Protective measures – Minimise risk & problems
- Accident management and rescue – Minimise damage.
The assessment should – as a minimum – address the following topics:
- Fieldwork incl. weather conditions, clothing in the Arctic, cold related injuries, etc.
- Handling of rifles and signal guns
- Driving snowmobiles
- Driving and working on sea ice
- Driving and working on glaciers
- Snow & avalanches
- Special environmental rules and conditions in Svalbard, e.g. rabies.
Risk assessment should be addressed during the in-brief at the host institution prior to starting fieldwork.
Kings Bay safety course
Kings Bay offers a polar bear safety course for everyone engaged in field work. You must pass this course (or similar courses from NPI or UNIS given in Longyearbyen) in order to be permitted to rent a firearm from Kings Bay. The certificate issued upon passing the mandatory test – the final step of the course – is valid for three years.
The safety course is usually held on the day of arrival and has a duration of 3 hours.
Sharing of safety information
Institutions and individuals are strongly encouraged to share information concerning safety, including the location of crevasses, polar bear sightings and avalanche dangers. Information should be posted on the whiteboard in the Kings Bay Service building.
Kings Bay’s power station watchman is on duty 24/7. Please contact the watchman if you see a polar bear inside Ny-Ålesund, or close to Ny-Ålesund, if you detect a fire, water leakage, etc, or in case of accidents. The Watchman’s phone number is (9).
Weapons and polar bears
Polar bear encounters should be considered a real possibility anywhere on Svalbard. Consequently, anyone travelling outside the settlement of Ny-Ålesund must be equipped with appropriate means of protection against polar bears (rifle and flare gun).
Always bring a firearm and a flare gun with you if you travel outside of Ny-Ålesund. Half load the rifle at designated areas when leaving Ny-Ålesund. The rifle should always be carried with the “bolt open” when inside the Ny-Ålesund city limits.
Firing your rifle or flare gun outside of the shooting range in Ny-Ålesund is forbidden unless it is an emergency. At the shooting range, please remember to raise the flag to inform others about your activity. If an incident such as firing a rifle or a flare gun outside of the shooting range occurs, it must be reported to Kings Bay.
Rental of firearms
As of the 1st of June, Norwegian rules for rental of firearms were changed. These changes have implications for visitors to Svalbard. Details of the changes are given on the web site of the Governor of Svalbard.
To comply with the new rules, researchers working in Ny-Ålesund must adhere to the following procedures:
All residents living on mainland Norway
You must apply for a weapons permit through your local “politidistrikt” – i.e. not through the Governor of Svalbard.
NB! Processing of your application can take months, so you are strongly encouraged to submit your application as soon as you have made a decision to carry out a research project in Ny-Ålesund.
Foreign citizens, and residents living on Svalbard
You must apply to the office of the Governor of Svalbard for permission to borrow a rifle for protection against polar bears. The process time for applications for for a permit to borrowing rifles are up to six weeks.
One of the conditions that must be met in order to obtain a permit is that you have to document that you have “sufficient proficiency in the use of firearms“. Sufficient proficiency can, for example, be obtained through completed national service, activity in an approved shooting organisation, being registered in the hunter register, or through following safety courses (such as that offered by Kings Bay AS) that provide basic knowledge of firearms.
Documentation related to the application must be submitted in English or Norwegian. Translation of original documents must be certified by the issuer of the document.
If you have such documentation available at the time of submitting your application, you will be asked to upload it as part of the application process. Provided you apply well in advance, you should have your permit in hand upon arrival in Ny-Ålesund, and will be allowed to rent a firearm from Kings Bay AS.
If you do not have such documentation available at the time of filling in your application, but plan to follow Kings Bay’s safety course upon arrival in Ny-Ålesund, you should complete all other steps in the application process, and submit your application. Doing so will enable the Governor’s Office to proceed with the assessment of your application – except the point relating to “sufficient proficiency in the use of firearms”. Once you have arrive in Ny-Ålesund and complete Kings Bay’s safety course, Kings Bay will inform the Governor’s Office, and they will then finalise the processing of your application, and should be able to provide you with a permit in a day or two (depending on workload).
NB! If you fail to submit your application a minimum of six weeks prior to arrival in Ny-Ålesund, the processing might be delayed, and you might have to wait to get the permit that you need in order to rent a firearm. Consequently, your field work, should it be dependent on rental of firearm for polar bear protection, will most likely be delayed.
NB! If you are over 18 years old, and already have a valid firearms permit or a European Firearms Pass for hunting rifle(s) (or higher weapons category), you can rent a rifle without applying for permission from the police/Governor of Svalbard. You will, however, still need to complete Kings Bay’s safety course (valid for three years) before you can rent a firearm from Kings Bay AS.
If you see a polar bear close to or inside Ny-Ålesund, call the Watchman (9) immediately and keep a safe distance, preferably inside.
If a polar bear is observed close to Ny-Ålesund, and reported to the watchman, the watchman will notify the reception. The reception will send out an email with polar bear information to all institutions present and to Kings Bay staff and will put up a notification on the whiteboard in the reception area.
The reception personnel will also send out a short warning to all institution’s leaders/on duty personnel (on the new radio system), who then will notify their researchers in Ny-Ålesund. After work hours the Watchmen will send out this warning to all institute leaders/on duty personnel.
“All institutions present, all institutions present. This is the reception/Watchman, this is the reception/Watchman. Polar bear sighted …(location)……, Polar bear sighted …(location)…….”
Please note that a polar bear on one side of Ny-Ålesund quickly can move to the other side. After work hours more information is to be found on the white board in the reception area.
Polar bear measures zone and unload weapon zone in Ny-Ålesund
The map below shows the area where measures are to be taken towards polar bears, and also the area where all weapons should be unloaded.
The read line gives the polar bear measure zone. Inside this zone the Kings Bay Watchmen will take action if a polar bear approach. The Watchmen will not apply more actions in chasing the bear away than necessary. Since often the bear just passes through areas close to the line, the Watchmen will often therefore only need to keep an eye on the situation until it is resolved. Outside of this line the bear will only be chased away if there are special circumstances.
The blue line gives the unload weapon zone. Inside this zone all weapons need to be unloaded and emptied. Unloaded and emptied weapons need to have the bolt/slide/drum open unless holstered or bagged when in this zone.
Information on how to act in case of a fire is posted at the entrance of every living quarter and on the room doors. Make sure you are familiar with the procedures during fires.
In case of a fire or major accident a siren will go off in town. If this happens, assemble in front of the Service Building.
Safety in the field
When in the field, researchers are responsible for their own safety (unless the host institution takes on this responsibility and accompanies the team out in the field). Host institutions have typically set up systems with a field activity book/whiteboard where researchers are asked to provide information on where they go, when they expect to be back and what kind of communications and safety equipment they are bringing. The host institution will monitor the field activity book/whiteboard, and take action if a group is not back in Ny-Ålesund at the time given in the registration.
Risk assessment and mitigations should follow the host institution’s routines.
Safety in the lab
Risk assessments and mitigations in the lab should follow the host institution’s own procedures. The responsibility for methods, use of chemicals, and laboratory work routines lies solely with the user. Users should familiarise themselves with current procedures and sign the lab user agreement to prove that they will comply with the Kings Bay laboratories user routines as described in the HSE user agreement.
Reporting of accidents and incidents
Incidents and accidents should be reported to Kings Bay on a predefined form. The form can be found in the Kings Bay Reception. One example of the type of incident that should be reported is firing a rifle outside of the shooting range.