The nexus of employee safety, professional integrity and ethics: Applying stakeholder theory to university researchers

Document Type

Conference Proceeding


Emerald Group Publishing


Faculty of Business and Law


School of Business / Centre for Innovative Practice




Bahn, S. T., Greenwood, M., & Van Buren III, H. (2013). The nexus of employee safety, professional integrity and ethics: Applying stakeholder theory to university researchers. Ethics, Values and Civil Society [Selected Papers from the 19th Annual Australian Association of Professional and Applied Ethics Conference] (pp. 13-29). Bingley, United Kingdom. Emerald Group Publishing. Available here


Purpose – This chapter presents a preliminary conceptualisation of the effects that unequal power relationships have on the integrity of social science research and the safety of researchers. ethodology/approach – We begin by presenting a review of the current literature on risk to research outputs and researcher safety. In this review, we offer a conceptual framework of the factors of safety and autonomy of researchers developed in conjunction with extent stakeholder theory scholarship. Findings – We argue that, in the event of a threat to researchers’ autonomy while complying with university ethics committee requirements, or when faced with uneven power differentials between the researcher and various stakeholders, one of two actions may occur: (1) the researcher may alter the project in order to comply or (2) the researcher may feel so compromised that the research project is abandoned. In both of these instances, research that addresses power/structural inequalities is avoided. In the event of a threat to the researcher’s physical and emotional safety, three actions can result if the researcher is harmed: (1) the incident may not be reported, which in turn may result in further harm to the researcher; (2) counselling may be undertaken to resolve and debrief emotional stress; or (3) a worker’s compensation claim may be lodged. Social implications – As academics, research is the core business of the organisations of which we are members. The issues introduced and discussed in this chapter are serious; however, our conceptualisation requires further research. We outline why this set of issues is significant and deserving of more study than it has previously received. Originality/value of chapter – Previous research that links research in the area of protection for researchers and research autonomy is very limited in Australia, and therefore our conceptualisation provides value to the research agenda on this topic. We also propose that the issue of researcher safety and autonomy is common to most academic environments and merits further academic study.