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Health and Safety Issues for Visiting Observers

Provided here is some general health and safety advice for vistors to the Nordic Optical Telescope.

Health Advice

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 telescope.

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).

Medical Emergencies

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 someone.

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 NOT:
  • 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 (0)112 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 emergency.
  • 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 information.
    • 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 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.

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 .

Back to top Last modified: July 31 2023