Risks to researchers
Keeping researchers safe is also an important ethical consideration, for everyone involved in a study:
- If you are undertaking research for your PhD, or at an early stage in your career, you may be working in relative isolation and that can open you up to greater research risks than if you are working in a team.
- If you are working on someone else’s study, you – and they – need to think about whether the research could pose any risks to you or other members of your team.
- If you are an experienced researcher or research supervisor, the same considerations apply, but you may also be managing these issues for other, less experienced, colleagues.
Find out if your institution has any guidelines for researcher safety and follow those. If your institution does not have its own guidelines, those of the Social Research Association provide a useful overview, highlighting five key dimensions of potential risk to researchers:
- risk of physical threat or abuse;
- risk of psychological trauma, as a result of actual or threatened violence or the nature of what is disclosed during the interaction;
- risk of being in a comprising situation, in which there might be accusations of improper behaviour;
- increased exposure to risks of everyday life and social interaction, such as road accidents and infectious illness; and
- risk of causing psychological or physical harm to others.
You should also consider the following more general considerations:
If you are doing fieldwork, always make sure someone knows where you are, and the timescale for your visits. If you are working in a team, it can be useful to make sure that each member has the telephone numbers of the others and for them to have their phone with them at all times.
For highly risky research – e.g. in high crime areas, involving evening fieldwork, visiting participants’ homes – make sure that someone knows where you are and that you have arrangements to contact someone to let them know you have finished and are on the way home or back to the office.
Are there systems in place to deal with issues that arise, such as disclosures and debriefing if collecting sensitive data? Is there someone you can call to talk to if you’ve done an upsetting interview, without breaching confidentiality? Research reports often present objective ‘findings’, but sometimes research can be upsetting for the researchers as well as the respondents. See our related resources for further reading.