Health and Safety Issues for Visiting Observers
Provided here is some general health and safety
advice for vistors to the Nordic Optical Telescope.
Working at the Telescope
The Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos (ORM) is situated at an
altitude of 2400 metres. This does not usually represent a major
problem, and no medical examination is required for visiting observers.
Note however that at this altitude the atmospheric pressure is
approximately three quarters of sea-level pressure, similar to a
pressurised aircraft cabin. This does have physiological effects:
- As far as is possible avoid driving between sea-level and the ORM
if you have a heavy head-cold. There have been cases of damaged
eardrums caused by inability to equalise pressure.
- Avoid taking heavy exercise shortly after arriving at the ORM.
Note that the effects of heavy colds, head and chest infections and
sinus conditions are greatly exacerbated on the mountain.
If for any reason you think that working at altitude might affect your
physical condition, it would be advisable to check with your local doctor
before coming out.
If you a have a medical condition which may be significant in the
event of an accident or emergency (e.g. repiratory or heart problems,
epilepsy, diabetes), please inform the member of staff at the
Finally, all observers should rent a car for the duration of their
stay on La Palma and be able and prepared to drive it at all times. In
case of sudden onset of bad weather (e.g. snow storms in winter), the
telescope site can be cut off for several days without electricity,
heating, and food, and it is dangerous and forbidden to go to the
Residencia by foot. The roads to and from ORM as wells as to and from
NOT within the observatory are steep mountain roads; observers who are
unfamiliar with such roads should consider to take a refresher course
before they arrive.
First aid facilities
There is a first aid room in the Residencia. At the telescope there
are first-aid kits in the control room and the service building.
Some items which visitors are advised to bring include lip-salve (the
atmosphere at the ORM can be extremely dry) and sun shield, though
both these items can usually be purchased from the Residencia
receptionist. Also travel-sickness tablets (for those who might be
affected by the journey up the mountain road).
In case of an emergency contact a member of staff who will then take
appropreate action. If a staff member can not be found and it is
believed an ambulance is required then the emergency number is
(0)112, you should be answered by someone who can speak
English. Alternatively you can phone the Residencia night porter on
extension 2500 or 609 554 576, who will be able to advise you.
If you are feeling ill, for your own safety, do not under any
circumstances go to your room and lie down without first telling
If someone else tells you they feel unwell, make sure a member of
staff is informed.
Observers Safety at the NOT
Given here is some basic safety advice for visiting observers to the
In particular for observers working alone we have an emergency
telephone call system at the telescope. The system is connect to
the control room telephone line and when activated start making a
sequence of emergency calls to four pre-programmed telephone
numbers. Your support astronomer should include an explanation of this
system as part of the introduction.
- It is recommended that observers do not attend the telescope
alone, especially in winter.
- In the case of an accident, if possible, inform a staff member
immediately and they will then take appropriate action. If it is
believed an ambulance is required, and a staff member can not be
reached, then dial
from any phone in the telescope or service building, you should be answered
by someone who can speak English.
- There are first-aid boxes in both the telescope control room and
in the service building. If a visitor requires anything from these
boxes they should ask a staff member for permission, unless it is an
- In winter extra precautions need to be taken:
- On arrival on the island and before driving up the mountain, you
should always contact the Residencia to check if it is safe to
do so. When driving up you should follow the official signs where only
the local authorities can say if the road is open or not. The role of
the Residencia in this is just that they are the ones that are in
contact with the local authorities and should have the latest
- If the weather conditions deteriorate while at the telescope e.g.
the temperature falls below zero and it is humid, then keep a regular
check for ice outside on both the asphalt and railings. If ice does
start to form you should immediately go down to the Residencia. If a
staff member is still at the telescope then it is advisable to go down
at the same time as them, since they should have a four wheel drive
vehicle or at least a car with a mobile phone.
- At the telescope we have "liquid chain spray" for car tyres. This
is an aerosol spray that when put on the car tyre tread gives extra
traction on ice, though it also washers off quickly. Ask a staff
member if you require some.
- When driving down from the telescope and there is already ice on
the road it is good practice to have one wheel in the ditch (off the
road), to give you more traction. This is particularly true for the
sharp bend just after the TNG.
- If it is impossible to get a vehicle (ambulance) to the telescope
due to snow, ice or for any other reason, then nobody (staff or
observers) should attempt to go up to the telescope.
In addition to the above the Residencia ORM administration also supply
some safety information which you would normally receive as part of a
room booking confirmation and is repeated here .