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).
Table of contents:
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 4 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
With basis in Norwegian legislation pertaining to firearms (The Firearms Act), the Governor of Svalbard has published revised Guidelines for firearms and protection and scaring devices against polar bears.
In short, the following applies:
1) Rifles are permitted to be acquired (or borrowed) for use as polar bear protection in Svalbard.
2) If you are over the age of 18, and hold a valid Norwegian firearms permit or a valid European Firearms Pass, you can borrow firearms without applying for a permit.
3) If you do not hold a valid Norwegian firearms permit or a valid European Firearms Pass, you must apply for a permit to borrow a firearm. The Governor of Svalbard processes applications from persons registered in the Population Register in Svalbard, and from resident/visiting foreign nationals to Svalbard. Anyone being a resident on the Norwegian mainland must apply to their own police district for a permit to borrow or rent a firearm.
4) To apply, you must be over the age of 18, and meet the general requirements for conduct, sobriety and suitability in Section 15 of the Firearms Act, as well as document sufficient proficiency in the use of the firearm in question, cf. Section 5-7 of the Firearms Regulations.
- The requirements regarding conduct, sobriety and suitability can be met through a police certificate (criminal record certificate) from your home country no older than three months.
- The requirement regarding displaying sufficient proficiency in the use of firearms can be met through documentation of sufficient competence on the firearm. This may, for example, be:
- completed national service (military)
- activity in an approved shooting organization
- registered in the register of Hunters
- safety courses that provide basic knowledge about the use of weapons, e.g., the safety course offered by Kings Bay AS or UNIS.
5) If you are a foreign national applying for a permit from the Governor of Svalbard, please follow this procedure:
- Open the application form from the Governor:
- Click on the link “Form for borrowing a rifle – non-Norwegian applicants”. This will open a page with the heading “Application for loan permit for firearms”.
- Click “I have read and I consent to the processing of privacy”, and then click the box labelled “Directly to form without logging in”.
- On the page that opens – “Application for loan permit for firearms” – choose “Lender”, and fill in the mandatory fields. Note that as part of the process of submitting your application, you will have to upload a copy of your passport, documentation of sufficient proficiency in the use of firearms, and copy of a police certificate. NB! All of these documents must be uploaded! With regards to “Purpose of loan”, choose “Polar bear protection”.
NB! Note that the processing time for applications is approximately 4 weeks at present (February 2023).
6) Please note that in addition to presenting a valid Norwegian firearms permit (e.g., as issued by the Governor of Svalbard) or a valid European Firearms Pass, you must complete Kings Bay’s safety course (valid for three years) or a similar safety course from UNIS before you can rent a firearm from Kings Bay AS. Both these courses have a component on polar bear behaviour – important for anyone engaged in field work on Svalbard.
If you have any questions about this procedure, do not hesitate to contact reserach coordinator in Ny-Ålesund: firstname.lastname@example.org
NB! Some people have reported challenges concerning payment when applaying for a permit. The Governor’s office say they sometime recive payments where it is impossible to track down the sender. They emphasise the importance of marking the payment by using the recieved application number. When making payments across borders, e.g. using swift, the Governor has experienced not getting something that identifies the sender. Due to the Swift-system the registration of the payment could also take up to seven days.
NB! If you fail to submit your application a minimum of eight 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.
The Norwegian Firearms Act is available here (in Norwegian only)
The Norwegian Firearms Regulation is available here (in Norwegian only)
If you see a polar bear close to or inside Ny-Ålesund, call the Watchman (9) immediately and keep a safe distance, preferably inside.
The watchman will then send out a short warning to all institution leaders/on duty personnel (on the new radio system), who will notify their researchers in Ny-Ålesund.
“All institutions present, all institutions present. This is the Watchman, this is the 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.
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