Incorporating safety into good research conduct

From Chemistry World today comes news of new sanctions for research misconduct, as set out in the Research Councils UK Policy and Guidelines on Governance of Good Research Conduct. Chemistry World reports:

Universities who do not take cases of research misconduct seriously could have their funding withdrawn. … Penalties could be applied to universities or research organisations which fail to meet RCUK’s obligations for research integrity – for example, if institutions conduct incomplete or biased investigations into alleged misconduct or if their researchers have committed ‘persistent research misconduct’. Such failures could result in existing grants being revoked, applications getting rejected ‘for any period of time, including indefinitely’ or even retrospectively clawing back funding from the institution.

The policy document outlines unacceptable research conduct, which includes (bold is mine):

Breach of duty of care, whether deliberately, recklessly or by gross negligence:

  • Disclosing improperly the identity of individuals or groups involved in research without their consent, or other breach of confidentiality;
  • Placing any of those involved in research in danger, whether as subjects, participants or associated individuals, without their prior consent, and without appropriate safeguards even with consent; this includes reputational danger where that can be anticipated
  • Not taking all reasonable care to ensure that the risks and dangers, the broad objectives and the sponsors of the research are known to participants or their legal representatives, to ensure appropriate informed consent is obtained properly, explicitly and transparently
  • Not observing legal and reasonable ethical requirements or obligations of care for animal subjects, human organs or tissue used in research, or for the protection of the environment
  • Improper conduct in peer review of research proposals or results (including manuscripts submitted for publication); this includes failure to disclose conflicts of interest; inadequate disclosure of clearly limited competence; misappropriation of the content of material; and breach of confidentiality or abuse of material provided in confidence for peer review purposes

Improper dealing with allegations of misconduct:

  • Failing to address possible infringements including attempts to cover up misconduct or
    reprisals against whistle-blowers
  • Failing to deal appropriately with malicious allegations, which should be handled formally
    as breaches of good conduct.

Read broadly, the policy seems to say that people conducting laboratory research need to be appropriately informed of the risks of their research and provided with safeguards to conduct their work safely, with the penalty being possible loss of funding (as well as investigation by the UK’s version of OSHA, the Health & Safety Executive). In an educational environment, I think that ideally this means giving people the tools and teaching them to do risk assessment and mitigation, with appropriate oversight.

The Universities UK Concordat to Support Research Integrity may have more to say about safety, but I haven’t had a chance to go through it.

Author: Jyllian Kemsley

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  1. Jyllian, good work in reviewing this document. However, I beleive you are reading more into the document and definition than intended by the document itself. As much as I agree that research integrity should explicitly include research personnel / environment safety and health, I don’t believe this was or is the intent of this document, which appears to focus on the “subjects” of research, and the ethical conduct of research involving such subjects. the UK 2009 document Code of Practice for Research (Section 3.9) is the only document I have found that specifically calls out “health and safety” of the research environment in any way, and then only with a generalized statement. best.

  2. @Larry–It’s possible I’m reading too much into it, but there’s this line: “any of those involved in research in danger, whether as subjects, participants or associated individuals.” That seems to call out participants more generally than just subjects.

  3. In reading the whole document, one might infer that, but the focus of the concordat is on research subject safety and ethical conduct of research. In that context, participant is generally recognized to be the research subject. I would certainly agree that health/safety of research personnel should also fall under research integrity, but am not at all sure the authors or the office putting this out in the UK would agree. I believe they would point to the 2009 document as covering health/safety of research personnel, and that was quite lacking.

  4. You must keep in mind that the UK has a very well-written and strong law for addressing chemical safety – “Control of Substances Hazardous to Health” (COSHH) addresses BOTH toxicity and PHYSICAL hazards to health.

    My reading of the citation Jyllian has addressed is that this is much closer to our regulations for the protection of human subjects than it is for the safe conduct of chemical research.

    I wish US OSHA would expand the Lab Standard to incorporate something like COSHH