Safety, Fieldwork and Ethics
Staff or students undertaking any business travel or fieldwork must follow the procedures outlined below in good time BEFORE travelling in order to ensure that their research and travel are safe, insured and in compliance with University of Oxford policies.
Students should work with their supervisor to ensure fieldwork plans are approved before leaving. Please see background information for students, the Code of Practice re: Supervision and the supervisors' Memorandum on Supervision and Fieldwork.
Full details of travel risk assessments, insurance applications and ethics clearance for both staff and students (and the forms to be completed) are available on this page.
Fieldwork is any teaching or research activity performed in places outside the control of the University, but where it retains responsibility for the safety of the employee/student.
All fieldwork, whether conducted overseas or in the UK, requires a risk assessment.
Overseas conferences require a risk assessment - please fill in the low-risk first section of the overseas risk assessment.
Once the risk assessment is approved, you will be sent an updated version, which you will need for your travel insurance application. Please do not apply for travel insurance until you have received the approved risk assessment.
Everyone undertaking travel in the UK or overseas, including fieldwork and attending conferences and meetings abroad, is required to fill in a full written risk assessment (full written risk assessment for overseas travel and/or fieldwork and UK fieldwork risk assessment). When completing the full written risk assessment the first step is to consider The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) website. The website details current travel advice for each country and you should describe how the advice relates to the activities you will be conducting. Where the FCO advise against travel to a particular destination but you still wish to undertake the trip, a written risk assessment must be submitted to the Head of School for all activities, including visiting libraries and conferences. The assessment will be submitted to the University Safety Office for comment before final approval can be given by the Head of School.
The reminder of the form asks you to consider the risks you may encounter and describe the measures you will take to minimise risk. General headers are provided as are examples of possible risks. Items on the list may not be applicable and the list is not intended to be exhaustive. Continue on a separate sheet as necessary. The object of any full risk assessment is to identify all the hazards associated with the work, to assess the risk that these hazards present under particular circumstances, and to plan mitigation. On completion the written assessment should evidence that you have identified the areas of work that present particular problems and put plans in place to reduce the risks to an acceptable level.
Please note the FCO website should be consulted on a regular basis before travel and a risk assessment updated where necessary should a situation in a country change.
Students should complete the forms in conjunction with their supervisor and should also plan to have contact with your supervisor at least once a month while on fieldwork, and at least every two weeks in FCO-flagged destinations or when carrying out other activities identified as high-risk.
University insurance cover is strongly advised. The online application form can be accessed at the following site and will require your Oxford Single Sign-On credentials: https://travelinsurance.admin.ox.ac.uk. Full details of the University insurance cover can be found on the University website. If you are not taking university insurance you must complete the Travel Evaluation Form (if your fieldwork is taking place in the UK, use the UK fieldwork risk assessment) and have it approved before fieldwork travel can begin. The UK fieldwork risk assessment/Insurance Application and Full Risk Assessment provide the department with the information needed to monitor your safety while you are away.
Two steps must be completed and approved before fieldwork or business travel begin (even if travel insurance is not required).
- University insurance cover is strongly advised. The online application form can be accessed at the following site and will require your Oxford Single Sign-On credentials: https://travelinsurance.admin.ox.ac.uk. Full details of the University insurance cover can be found on the University website. If you decide against a University insurance application you will need to complete a Travel Evaluation Form (if your fieldwork is taking place in the UK, use the UK fieldwork risk assessment) to provide the department with the emergency contact details it needs.
- the Full Risk Assessment
Important, and in addition to University insurance: you must obtain a UK Global Health Insurance Card (UK GHIC) or UK European Health Insurance Card (UK EHIC) for travel in European Economic Area (EEA) countries and Switzerland. This will cover you for emergency medical treatment only. You can apply for this on line here at the NHS website.
All completed travel-related forms should be returned to Kate Atherton at least 6 weeks before departure. If you have any questions, please contact Kate at email@example.com.
Social Sciencs fieldwork pages
Fieldworkers' experiences website
The supervisors’ checksheet and practical guide
Safe interviewing guidelines
Vicarious trauma fact sheet
Links to training courses:
Preparation for safe and effective fieldwork
Fieldwork in Practice
Vicarious trauma workshops
Fieldwork in Discussion
All students and staff must obtain ethics clearance before leaving for fieldwork research that involves living human or animal subjects. Guidance on ethics clearance procedures for staff and students in the School can be found here and should be read before filling in the form.
Further valuable guidance and material for consideration is to be found on the Association of Social Anthropologists' website here, under the 'Ethics' tab and then 'Ethnav'. The ESRC Framework for research ethics contains a number of case studies that students and staff in the School might find helpful when thinking through ethical issues in their own research.
CUREC approved protocols best practice guidance forms are available here. Please use the CUREC 1A form (downloadable here) and fill it in electronically, and not by hand.
Electronic versions of completed CUREC forms must be emailed to Kate Atherton. Student forms must be accompanied by an approval email from the supervisor (supervisor signatures are not required). Any questions should also be directed to Kate.
Please read these tips on filling in your CUREC form.
Research integrity training is a requirement for the CUREC (see below).
The Research Integrity: Core course is compulsory for all University of Oxford research students (either on graduate taught courses or studying for research degrees). There is a concise refresher version of the course available which is suitable for more experienced researchers (e.g. postdoctoral researchers and established academic staff). There are also further courses available, covering the following aspects of research integrity: Avoiding Plagiarism; Conflicts of Interest; Research Involving Human Participants; The Care & Use of Animals in Research; Intellectual Property; Export Controls.
All of these course are available to any University staff and students with an interest in this area.
These courses provide an introduction to research integrity (or good research practice). They have been designed to support researchers from all disciplines through some of the key issues that need to be considered when planning, conducting and publishing research. Amongst other topics, the introductory course covers professional responsibilities, designing and conducting research, relationships (both with other researchers and the broader community and the public), scholarly publication, research dissemination and impact, issues in research governance and what to do if research misconduct is suspected. Potential problems are identified, along with suggestions for how they can be resolved. Practical examples and activities are included to develop understanding of more complex situations.
Information about other research integrity courses, including Introduction to research ethics at Oxford (social sciences and humanities), is available at https://researchsupport.admin.ox.ac.uk/integrity-and-ethics-training.
As part of the CUREC process the School now requires all researchers to ensure that they have fully considered any information security requirements of the research they will be doing. General advice and policy (including a data classification scheme) is available from the School here.
If you intend to process (collect, store, or share) personal data then The Data Protection Act (1998) applies. Please read the following: http://www.admin.ox.ac.uk/councilsec/compliance/dataprotection/
Research specific advice and resources are available from the following excellent website: http://researchdata.ox.ac.uk/
The following webpage is also useful: https://www1.admin.ox.ac.uk/councilsec/compliance/dataprotection/definitions/
You are recommended to use the information above to familiarise yourself with information security topics and assess how they may affect you while undertaking your research. The following are intended to help you assess your information security requirements:
(1) Will you be storing personal or other sensitive data types?
(2) If so, how and where will this be stored?
(3) How will your data be secured against loss or theft?
(4) Will you share any of this data? If so by what means and how will you ensure it is shared only with your intended audience?
(5) What are the financial or reputational risks to the University of losing this data? See section 2.2 in the policy, here.
**The University offers a whole disk encryption service to secure your laptop if needed. You may need to consider using an encrypted USB stick if you are recording interviews that contain personal or sensitive data.**
It is for you to assess the risks for yourself using the policy, guidance and legislation referred to above and to decide on appropriate measures.
The IT Team are happy to advise on the basis of your assessment so please email us if you have any questions: firstname.lastname@example.org.
There are a number of open access written case studies videos on the Social Sciences Fieldwork Experiences website. These include written case studies by Anthropology students (Chile, Ghana, South Korea). The top tips video is also recommended. A number of the longer training videos are behind single sign on, which can be accessed here.
There is the potential for researchers undertaking fieldwork to find themselves engaged with situations that are stressful, traumatic, or to witness events that are traumatic to others. Advice and support is available to help deal with such situations at the time and afterwards. In addition to the health and welfare services in the university and colleges, the Headington Institute, for example, works with humanitarian and development organisations to ensure the long-term wellbeing of personnel working in these areas. It has a range of useful information and free online training materials available dealing with matters such as resilience, stress, critical incidents and vicarious trauma.
A number of Health and Safety training courses are available, which research students are encouraged to go on before conducting fieldwork. Further information and links for the courses can be consulted here.
All fieldwork, whether conducted overseas or in the UK, requires a risk assessment.
Overseas Travel and Fieldwork Risk Assessment (also fill in the Travel Evaluation Form)
CUREC forms can be downloaded here. Please use the CUREC 1A form and fill it in electronically, not by hand. Signatures are not required as long as there is an email of approval from your supervisor. CUREC tips. Send CUREC applications to email@example.com
School's Statement of Safety Organisation including the Code of Practice in Safety and Overseas Travel. This is also available as a word document (please contact firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Social Sciences Division (SSD) website includes a wide range of resources relating to fieldwork: Fieldwork.