Health and Safety

SCIENTISTSHealth and Safety

We take our duty of care to visiting scientists and our own staff extremely seriously, especially in light of the relatively remote location of Danum Valley and most other SEARRP research sites. Should you have any questions relating to health and safety at Danum Valley, or require details of our emergency response plan, please contact our Operations Manager, Adrian Karolus: in the first instance. Once you are in the field, feel free to speak with the respective designated Safety Officer should you have any questions or concerns.

First Aid

Danum and the other field centres where we operate do not have on-site medical facilities (other than first aid kits) – so in the case of a serious accident or illness evacuation will be arranged to the nearest or most appropriate hospital. Please note that you must have medical insurance which includes helicopter evacuation cover and, for non-Malaysians, repatriation expenses.

The Tropical Environment

It is crucial to keep hydrated at all times – so ensure that you always carry water when in the field. Tap water and water from rivers or streams is not safe to drink – so only drink filtered, boiled or bottled water (which is available at all our sites).

Sunburn and heatstroke are common, even on cloudy days, so use sunscreen, a hat and keep covered if you are especially sensitive to the sun.

The terrain at Danum and many of our sites can be challenging and slips and falls are common. Please make sure you use appropriate footwear. It is also easy to get lost. SEARRP Research Assistants are available to help with your work and we strongly discourage scientists from entering the forest alone; if this does prove to be necessary you must inform the on-site Safety Officer of your location and anticipated time of return.

Do not cross rivers unaided – or any streams greater than knee-depth without the assistance of our staff.

Hygiene & Cleanliness

To avoid skin and other topical infections, it’s a good idea to maintain the highest standards of personal hygiene and cleanliness while in the field. Our staff generally shower and change their clothes at least twice a day – and seldom wear field clothes more than once. Laundry facilities are available at Danum and other sites.


Vehicle Use

Visiting scientists are not permitted to use SEARRP vehicles unless specifically authorised to do so. Safety belts must be worn at all times – and riding in the back of pick-ups is strictly prohibited. Road conditions at many SEARRP sites can be challenging, which puts a particular strain on vehicles; if you suspect that a vehicle is in any way unsafe or unfit to use please inform a member of our staff immediately.

Infectious Diseases

Malaria, dengue, leptospirosis, scrub typhus and a range of other, potentially very serious, life-threatening diseases are endemic to Sabah and across Malaysia. Before leaving your home country we strongly advise taking specific advice from your doctor or other medical professional – including on the use of Malarial prophylactics.

If you feel at all unwell once you are in the field – and particularly if you experience any level of fever or symptoms including rashes, shivering, sickness, diarrhoea or abdominal pain you must inform the on-site Safety Officer or other SEARRP Research Assistant immediately. Please be aware that the diagnosis of even quite common tropical diseases can be difficult – with many having relatively common early symptoms – so you must inform us if you feel unwell.

It makes sense to cover-up, use insect repellents and sleep under a mosquito net to reduce the risk of mosquito-borne diseases – particularly in the hours around dawn and dusk.

Invertebrate Bites & Stings

Numerous insect (mosquitos, wasps and hornets, ants, sand flies etc) and other arthropod species (centipedes, scorpions, spiders, ticks etc) in the forests of Malaysia can – and often do – bite and sting. Particular caution should be exercised with hornets – which represent a severe risk if you are stung on multiple occasions – and please note that ticks can carry diseases, including the potentially serious condition Scrub Typhus. Our Safety Officers will be able to given general advice on topical, first aid responses. If you experience any level of systemic reaction to a bit or sting (i.e. swelling of lymph glands, rashes other than at the site of the bite or sting, breathing difficulties, elevated temperature or heart rate) you must inform one of our staff immediately as you may be experiencing anaphylactic shock.


Leaches are extremely common at all our research sites; while leach bites do not pose a serious risk to health (unlike ticks, leaches are not known to carry any infectious diseases) it is sensible to avoid being bitten as bites can easily become infected. Wear leach socks and tuck-in shirts when in the field – and use insect repellent (which also deters leaches).

Snake Bites

Be aware of your surroundings and where you’re stepping, sitting and what you’re holding onto in the field, particularly at night; most snakebites occur after nightfall and as a consequence of stepping-on or accidentally disturbing a resting snake. If you are bitten, try to remain calm (elevated heart rate and anxiety will accelerate the action of venom) and if you are able to do so safely try to identify the snake. Inform whoever is with you that you have been bitten and keep at still as possible. SEARRP staff are trained in responses to snake bites and will take the appropriate action.

Large Mammals

On no account are large mammals (wild boar, deer, elephants, large cats etc) to be approached. Elephants present a particular danger – and if you suspect elephants to be present at your site do not enter the forest. Our field staff will be able to advise on the presence of elephants.

Tree Climbing

Unauthorised climbing is strictly prohibited. Specific advice – including on safety requirements – will be provided if your research involves work at height.

Lab Work & General Field Centre Safety Considerations

The respective Safety Officer will advise on general site-based health and safety considerations, emergency lab and field centre protocols, including fire and other evacuation responses.

Natural Disasters & Security Risks

Please consult the websites of your respective Embassy, High Commission or Consulate in Malaysia for up-to-date advice before travelling. If you have any particular concerns please contact SEARRP’s Safeguarding Officer, Katie King:

On-site responses to natural disasters and security risks will be coordinated by our Safety Officers – with the support of SEARRP’s KK office.

Emergency Communications

Danum Valley, SAFE, Maliau Basin and the surrounding forest have cellphone coverage, albeit patchy at times, so we suggest that scientists and students get local SIM cards (Maxis and Celcom generally have the most complete coverage). The Sabah Biodiversity Experiment site at Malua has WiFi – but no cellphone coverage.