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Health and Safety Issues for Visiting Observers

The Observatory site is situated at an altitude of 2400 metres above sea-level. This height is not usually a problem and no medical examination is required for visiting observers. But if for any reason you think it might affect your physical condition, it would be advisable to check with your local doctor before coming out. Check out the observatory's environmental conditions.

You are strongly advised to declare any serious medical condition to the Director of the ING ( before arranging your visit. Such conditions include respiratory or heart problems, epilepsy, diabetes, any medical condition which may be significant in the event of an accident or emergency, etc. With your permission he will ensure that the essential personnel are aware of the condition. Be assured that all medical matters are treated in strict confidence.

Astronomical observing is a potentially dangerous occupation. It frequently involves the operation of heavy equipment, in pitch darkness, at high altitude, and in lousy weather. Severe accidents have occurred at astronomical observatories, so visitors must take safety issues seriously.

Visitors should note that the ING safety policy applies to them as well as to observatory staff. For that reason, they are provided with one of the following safety checklists upon arrival at the observatory, which should be read and returned signed: WHT, INT.

The responsibility for safety on site during daytime working hours is vested in ING's Leader of the Operations Team, and at night in the Observing Support Assistant (OSA). They are the first point of contact in case of any emergency, and they have the authority to take decisions on safety issues, such as determining that the buildings or the observatory site should be evacuated, and such decisions must be obeyed. The IAC Residencia provides a 24-hour porter service who can also be contacted in case of an emergency.

Always write the name/s of the observer/s (including room number/s) in the INT log book, and remember to submit the ING Booking form in advance of your run. This is essential e.g. in case of site evacuation. #For emergency procedures please refer to the Healt#h and Safety

First aid, emergencies and medicines

There is a first aid room in the IAC Residencia and one in the INT building. First aid kits are available in the WHT and INT kitchens.

The OSA's mobile number is +34 616 974 513. He/She starts work 30 minutes before sun set. The IAC night porter's mobile number is +34 609 554576 and works until 23:00, stays on site and is on call for emergencies. During working hours you may contact the operations team by making a general call dialing 670 using the ING Cisco phones. The WHT control room (telephone number: +34 922 405559, +34 922 425452) is manned throughout the night (except when abandoned due to bad weather). The general emergency number in Spain is 112; they will speak your language!

If you feel unwell, notify the operations team or your OSA or get someone to do so. For your own safety, do not, under any circumstances, go to your room and lie down without telling someone. If someone else tells you they feel unwell, make sure that the ING's Leader of the Operations Team, the OSA or the IAC Residencia porter are informed

In case of an emergency contact ING's Leader of the Operations Team at daytime normal working times, or the Observing Support Assistant (OSA) at night. The IAC Residencia provides a 24-hour porter service who can also be contacted in case of an emergency.

Observers who are resident in a European Economic Area (EEA) country or Switzerland are advised to carry a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) to facilitate any medical care within the Spanish public health system that may be needed during your stay on La Palma. Residents of the Netherlands and UK may apply for their EHIC respectively at:


Residents of other EEA countries and Switzerland should apply for their EHIC through their national health insurance systems.

Without this card you will be required to pay any doctor and hospital charges.

Note that the range of medicines available on site is extremely limited, since ING is not legally permitted to dispense medicines. This legal restriction includes non-prescription items such as aspirin, and visiting observers would be well-advised to bring their own supply.

Other items which visitors are advised to bring include lip-salve (the atmosphere on site can be extremely dry), sun shield (particularly for those who intend to do much walking on site) and travel-sickness tablets (for those who might be affected by the journey up and down the mountain road).

At the telescope building

At night, keep lights to a minimum and carry a torch when moving around the buildings. Keep fire doors closed.

Alcoholic drinks are not allowed in the telescope buildings. Smoking is prohibited in all ING buildings. Drinks and cold snacks are allowed in the control rooms; please use the kitchen for hot meals. You may use the refrigerators, however please remove all your items at the end of your run. It is good practice to label (name and date) what you put in the fridge.

If there is snow and ice DO NOT go out of the control room or the double south door at the INT onto the roof!

Be aware of the risks related to handling liquid nitrogen.

Working on site

Note that at the altitude of the observatory the atmospheric pressure is approximately three quarters of sea-level pressure, similar to a pressurised aircraft cabin. This does have physiological effects. Therefore avoid as far as is possible driving between sea-level and site if you have a heavy head-cold; there have been cases of damaged eardrums caused by inability to equalise pressure. The effects of heavy colds, head and chest infections and sinus conditions can be greatly exacerbated on site. Avoid taking heavy exercise shortly after arriving on site.

Observers working alone at night are at particular risk. Carry the lone worker alarm and mobile phone always with you. Your Support Astronomer will show you how it works.

Procedure in case of a fire

The ING contact person is the operations team during working hours and the WHT OSA at night.

If you discover a fire:

  1. Raise the alarm at once by operating the nearest break glass fire alarm.
  2. Call the operations leader or your ING contact person or get someone to do so, providing your exact location.
  3. If trained in the use of fire extinguishers and you feel you can easily extinguish the fire, attempt to do so with the equipment provided. Never take personal risks.
  4. If you cannot tackle the fire, should the fire get out of control or your escape route is threatened leave the building quickly and calmly by the nearest available escape route, whenever possible, assisting in evacuating visitors and leaving windows and doors closed.
  5. Do not stop to collect personal belongings and do not use the lifts.

On hearing the evacuation signal:

  1. Leave the building quickly and calmly by the nearest available escape route, whenever possible, assisting in evacuating visitors and leaving windows and doors closed.
  2. Do not stop to collect personal belongings and do not use the lifts.
Fire assembly point:
  1. The normal point of assembly is the car park; however you may be directed to another area by the operations leader or your ING contact person.
  2. Do not re-enter the building until informed it is safe to do so by the operations leader or your ING contact person.
  3. If you believe someone is missing, inform the operation leader, your ING contact person or the fire brigade officer.

The operations leader or the ING contact person will call 112 if a fire has been discovered that cannot be tackled. If a fire is discovered the operations leader or the ING contact person must inform the IAC reception, ING management and the ING safety adviser.

Once a fire incident has been resolved the operations leader or the ING contact person, after agreeing with ING management or the ING safety adviser, will inform staff and visitors how to proceed.

Walking and driving around site

Please take care when walking around the site. There are many precipices and the rock is very unstable. Keep to roadways and marked paths. Beware of bad weather conditions: in poor visibility it is extremely easy to lose your way and snow or ice can make the shortest journey an ordeal. Always wear adequate shoes or boots.

Be aware of snow/ice risks during wintertime.

If you intend to leave the site to walk, always tell somebody before you leave.

Read this information about driving on site.


During the winter months (normally November to April inclusive) please ensure that you bring adequate clothing to protect you against wind, rain, snow, ice and generally cold conditions. Also remember that the weather conditions at the observatory can change rapidly, even in summer.

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Contact:  (Health and Safety Officer)
Last modified: 20 June 2012