journal, university

Dangers but as dry as bones

Once upon a time there was a fictional archaeologist who we shall call Drew. He didn’t follow any safety guidances and shimmied down a narrow hole to find a Lost Artefact. It was a pit of snakes and they all bit his un-gloved hands before 6m of soil collapsed in on him.

The end!

We’ve come to an extremely important point, and I have been pondering…

Why is learning about Work Health and Safety (Occupational Health and Safety in some parts) often so dull?

It’s as if everybody collectively agreed that, because the consequences of screwing up WHS can mean injury or death, the information must be delivered in a serious(ly dry) manner, like pages of legislation to read.

Or, because WHS is necessary instruction in hazardous work sites, we can economise on ways to keep it interesting, because people have to engage with it anyway.


Couldn’t it be the other way round?

If we have to engage in learning something, we should invest more effort in keeping it engaging, so that newcomers to learning about hazards place extra value on care and keeping on top of, you know, not accidentally swallowing mercury, or falling 8m off a cliff.

I’m not saying we should clown around with this info, but to spice it up just a little.

Surely it can be interesting! Here are some possible safety nightmares for diggers, just off the top of my head:

• being buried alive • mosquito bites • dengue fever • malaria • Japanese encephalitis • crocodile attacks • snake bites • scorpion bites • mercury exposure • lead exposure • asbestos exposure • heat stroke • hypothermia • viral infections from wild animals eg bats • injury from a trowel • chased by monkeys • chased by boars • dehydration • falling • poisonous plants • tetanus from rusty nails…

A quiz, perhaps? Get everyone to brainstorm what they think can go wrong at the beginning of a project, then gather and see what people may have missed before moving forward.

As a paper-pusher just starting to learn about how people find themselves in hazardous situations, I don’t have a good solution yet re: a wildly exciting delivery of safety measures.

I imagine the most stimulating way to drive home* what some dangers of Archaeology are is via Virtual Reality, which just isn’t easily available everywhere at the moment. Maybe in 20 years, it will be normal for the new archaeologist to see for themselves what it’s like to fall down an excavation site virtually first, and so avoid it literally.


One example I have of people changing things up for Health And Safety is the airline, Air New Zealand. They regularly make their in-flight safety videos just a little bit fun and different. See this one (closed captions available on YouTube)

Anyone have other suggestions?

Two bits of trivia this week:

• Archaeology is more than 90% about knowing how to manage a project. (Which is answering the three questions of: How much money? How much time? How big is it?)

• Archaeologists working for the government dig about 5-10% of the time, and Archaeologists hired commercially dig about 80% of the time. So varied!

All images from

*speaking of driving home, I took a wrong turn on the way back from uni, again.