The USQ Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC) find researchers commonly struggle with adequately addressing the questions within section “7 Benefit and Risk” of the Human Research Ethics (HRE) application.
Generally, most research projects will have some element of risk that needs to be identified and addressed. Therefore, “no foreseeable risk” is not an appropriate response to address the questions in section 7 Benefit and Risk adequately.
It is a requirement of the National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research, 2007 (updated 2018) that researchers are responsible for designing research to minimise the risks of harm or discomfort to participants.
Please note research is ethically acceptable only when its potential benefits justify any risks involved in the research.
Outline the benefits
Question 7.1 requires you to outline the potential and real risks to participants. Benefits of research may include, for example, gains in knowledge, insight and understanding, improved social welfare and individual wellbeing, and gains in skill or expertise for individual researchers, teams or institutions.
Define the risks
Question 7.2 of the HRE application requires you to consider any real or potential risks participants may encounter if they participate in the research project. This includes identifying any risks that may be long term/ post participation in the research project.
Common risks identified by USQ researchers:
- Physical, i.e. potential injury due to participating in exercise-based activities
- Psychological, i.e. interviews seeking information on past traumas
- Social, i.e. research with work colleagues
- Time imposition, i.e. significant time required to participate in multiple research activities
- Economic, i.e. direct or indirect costs to participants
- Indirect – participants incur a fee to participate in the research
- Direct – participant potential loss of employment due to participation in the research project
- Legal, i.e. research that aims or is likely to uncover illegal activities
- Note although researchers are required to keep research data confidential there may be situations where researchers are subpoenaed to release information
- It should also be noted that some researchers may be legally obligated to report incidences. For example, a researcher who is also a registered teacher must report any incidences of child abuse even if this is uncovered during a research activity.
Minimising the risks
As a part of identifying the risks, you will as need to consider how you are or planning to minimise/ negate the risks. You are likely to already have processes in place to minimise these risks.
At question 7.4 outline how you will manage each risk you have identified at question 7.2, ensuring section 7.2 and 7.4 align
Depending on the risks and your participants, it may be appropriate for participants to be referred to support services. If participants are to be referred to support services, ensure the services are appropriate to the risks and the participants.
Risks to the research team
Consider if any risks are present for the research team. Think of this like a Workplace Health and Safety (WHS). For example, researchers conducting interviews in a participants home would involve potential risks to the researchers that will need to be considered and minimised.
Further information on benefits and risks can be found in Chapter 2.1 of the National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research, 2007 (updated 2018).