Susanne Bahn

Document Type

Journal Article




Faculty of Business and Law


School of Management / Centre for Innovative Practice




This is an Author's Accepted Manuscript of: Bahn, S. T. (2012). Keeping academic field researchers safe: Ethical safeguards. Journal of Academic Ethics, 10(2), 83-91.

The final publication is available at Springer via


Competent risk management is central to the ethical conduct and profitability of organisations including universities. Recent UK research highlights the risks of physical and psychological harm and emotional distress for researchers and the importance of developing strategies to deal with these issues prior to data being collected. Actual numbers of incidents of researcher harm in Australian universities are unavailable; however anecdotal evidence and Bloor et al.'s (2010) case studies suggest that this is a significant issue. They recommended risk management practices such as training about researcher safety, pre-trip security briefings, established call-back systems, working in pairs, and compulsory de-briefings are recommended. Yet Australian universities do little to protect the safety of field researchers when they collect data in private locations, such as participants' homes and when dealing with emotionally challenging content. This is at odds with the duty of care requirements on employers in current state based occupational health and safety (OHS) laws where breaches attract considerable penalties. The failure to adequately address the potential safety hazards and manage the risks associated with data collection places Australian universities in a vulnerable position, and possibly at risk of litigation, in their duty to adequately protect researchers. The paper presents a review of the international literature and draws on the UK research. Conceptual modelling is provided to illustrate the risk to universities if researchers are harmed in the field. Finally, the paper concludes with a call for further research to develop robust policy and practice that protects the field researcher.



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