voluntary participation requires that people not be coerced into participating in research. This is especially relevant where researchers had previously relied on 'captive audiences' for their subjects -- prisons, universities, and places like that. Closely related to the notion of voluntary participation is the requirement of informed consent. Essentially, this means that prospective research participants must be fully informed about the procedures and risks involved in research and must give their consent to participate. Ethical standards also require that researchers not put participants in a situation where they might be at risk of harm as a result of their participation. Harm can be defined as both physical and psychological. There are two standards that are applied in order to help protect the privacy of research participants. Almost all research guarantees the participants confidentiality -- they are assured that identifying information will not be made available to anyone who is not directly involved in the study. The stricter standard is the principle of anonymity which essentially means that the participant will remain anonymous throughout the study -- even to the researchers themselves. Clearly, the anonymity standard is a stronger guarantee of privacy, but it is sometimes difficult to accomplish, especially in situations where participants have to be measured at multiple time points (e.g., a pre-post study). Increasingly, researchers have had to deal with the ethical issue of a person's right to service. Good research practice often requires the use of a no-treatment control group -- a group of participants who do not get the treatment or program that is being studied. But when that treatment or program may have beneficial effects, persons assigned to the no-treatment control may feel their rights to equal access to services are being curtailed.

Even when clear ethical standards and principles exist, there will be times when the need to do accurate research runs up against the rights of potential participants. No set of standards can possibly anticipate every ethical circumstance. Furthermore, there needs to be a procedure that assures that researchers will consider all relevant ethical issues in formulating research plans. To address such needs most institutions and organizations have formulated an Institutional Review Board (IRB), a panel of persons who reviews grant proposals with respect to ethical implications and decides whether additional actions need to be taken to assure the safety and rights of participants. By reviewing proposals for research, IRBs also help to protect both the organization and the researcher against potential legal implications of neglecting to address important ethical issues of participants.

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These are some examples of what might be an ethical issue or risk in research. This is not an exhaustive list – you may identify other issues in your own research project. You need to explain how you will deal with each of the issues or risks you identify.


Matters around subject-matter

Controversial / contentious / sensitive / embarrassing / upsetting subject-matter
Matters around participants

Children or young people are involved (under 18)
Vulnerable people are involved (elderly, physically or mentally ill, people with learning difficulties, in care, bereaved, prisoners, others)
Participants are my own students or colleagues
Participants are an over-researched group
Participants do not understand English / might not adequately understand verbal explanations or written information / have low functional literacy
Matters around researchers

There is a conflict of interest for the researcher
Matters around recruitment of participants

Participants may be approached in a public space
Participation is not voluntary, or there is coercion or incentive to participate
Researcher or Faculty / Department / University has a financial interest in the project
The participant may not be able to withdraw from the project
Deception is involved
The nature of the participants

Participants may disclose that they have broken the law
Risks or hazards to participants or researchers

Physical or mental risk or hazard
Fear or pain / distress / discomfort to the participant or researcher
Taking of samples e.g. blood, saliva
Physical contact
Food or drink is to be administered
Risk to personal safety e.g. physical or verbal attack; disability or health problems; delayed access to personal or medical assistance; failure of routine or emergency communications; security of accommodation and support; getting lost, or stranded by transport; cultural or legal differences
Inconvenience or changes in lifestyle for participants
Location of participation

The project or interaction is out in the open, at another organisation’s premises, abroad / overseas
Natural physical hazards - effects of the natural environment, climate, landscape, plants, animals e.g. extreme weather; earthquakes and volcanoes; mountains, cliffs and rock falls; glaciers, crevasses and icefalls; caves, mines and quarries; forests including fire; marshes and quicksand; fresh or seawater, tidal surges
Environmental impact e.g. pollution and waste, deposition of rubbish, disturbance of eco-systems, trampling, harm to animals or plants
Confidentiality issues

Covert observation of participants
Recording or filming / photography of participants (whether covert or otherwise)
Issues of confidentiality and privacy, or lack of anonymity (see section on personal data)
Security of personal data, retention and disposal of the data (see section on personal data)
Other health and safety issues

You may consider whether you need to complete a separate Health & Safety Risk Assessment form, as well as answering this question on your application form. Your professional body may also require this (as an example, the British Psychological Society).

Equipment hazards - storage, handling and use of equipment and materials e.g. tools; machinery; vehicles; manual handling; noise; work at height; electricity; fire; vacuum; high pressure; high temperature; ultra violet; laser; vibration
Chemical hazards - storage, handling, use, and disposal of chemical reagents, intermediates, products and waste e.g. toxic by inhalation or ingestion; irritant; corrosive, flammable; explosive; oxidising; radioactive; include routes of exposure e.g. skin contact; skin sensitisation; sensitisation by inhalation; toxic by ingestion or inhalation. All work with radioactive materials MUST be approved by the Radiation Protection Supervisor (contact the Safety Unit at safetyunit@gre.ac.uk).
Biological hazards - storage, handling, use, and disposal of biological agents, intermediates, products and waste; "any micro-organism, cell culture or human endoparasite including any which have been genetically modified, which may cause infection, allergy, toxicity and other hazards to human health".  This includes bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites; Include routes of exposure e.g. Blood borne infection; skin contact, skin sensitisation; sensitisation by inhalation; toxic by ingestion or inhalation. Work involving Class 2 agents or above must be approved by the University Biological and Genetic Modification Safety Committee before materials are obtained and work commences. If work involves genetically modified organisms, GMO Risk Assessment form must be completed.


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