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Review of the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research Submission

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Principles in Code

The Principles promote Respect for research participants, the wider community, animals and the environment but do not acknowledge respect for the well-being of the researchers themselves. Responsible research should be conducted in a manner that does not result in adverse effects for the researcher, research colleagues and others in the research community. Adverse effects might be of the nature of injury, illness or detriment to general wellbeing.

It is accepted with reference to the last dot point under P7 Accountability that work, health and safety legislation applies to the safe conduct of research. However safety is not simply a compliance issue; it is a higher order ethical responsibility that applies even in the absence of legislation. It is further accepted that the Code and supporting guides should not have to repeat legislative requirements. But this should not preclude the acknowledgement of research safety as a fundamental principle of responsible research.

It is recommended that an additional dot point is added under P5 Respect along the lines of: 'Respect for the safety and wellbeing of people conducting or supporting research', or 'Respect for the safety and wellbeing of people in the research community'. This would mean an adjustment to the lead-in line for P5, eg adding 'research community'.

The inclusion of a Principle dot point emphasising a respect for the safety & wellbeing of the researcher and colleagues would send an important symbolic message to researchers that safety should be an integral component of their research: they are conducting safe research not just research with safety  added. Nor is safety simply a compliance duty which can be passed to safety officers and technical staff.

Noting the comment in the Preamble  - 'compliance with this code is a prerequisite for receipt of National Health and Medical Research Council and Australian Research Council funding' - the Code should acknowledge safety as a Principle and allow grant applicants to be recognised and rewarded for incorporating safety into grant applications, and the level of grant should be sufficient to ensure that the research can be conducted in safety.

It is acknowledged that standards of safety in research can be enforced through legislative requirements. However this process is often driven by external regulatory agencies. Inclusion of safety as a feature of responsible research may provide an institution with a useful means of investigating or disciplining researchers through an internal code of conduct process, in those rare instances where a researcher is negligent, reckless or irresponsible in relation to safety in research.

While there is abundant guidance material available in industry on work, health and safety (including regulations, codes of practice and Australian Standards) the development of a Guide on integration of safety into research practice would be valuable covering areas such as safety in research project/proposal design and how safety may be encourage and supported in the research community.

Responsibilities for Institutions in Code

With respect to the Responsibilities of the Institution (R1-R12) it is arguable that these would not need to be amended to reflect an additional dot point as proposed above under Principles, as once responsible research is defined as encapsulating safe research, any reference to responsible research generally would include safe research. Nevertheless, the ethical value of safe work could be strengthened by the addition of an Institution Responsibility such as: 'Provide researchers with a safe work environment and safe systems of work'. Or indeed retain the wording of the existing code in section 1.5: 'Ensure a safe research environment'.

Responsibilities for Researchers in Code

With respect to the Responsibilities of the Researcher (R13-R28), again safe research could be seen to be addressed through the general statement leading into the section ('Researchers will ensure the principles of responsible research conduct are manifest in all aspects of their research') which could receive more prominence in the formatting. If safe work is referenced as a sub-principle under Respect then R14 could be interpreted as encapsulating safe research. Nevertheless as there are already some quite specific responsibilities listed there may be value in an additional researcher responsibility along the lines of 'Conduct safe research' or 'Conduct safe research to protect the safety and wellbeing of people in the research environment.'

Page reviewed: 17 September, 2018