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.

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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 students undertaking fieldwork are required to fill in a full written 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.

    You 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.

    Once the form has been completed it will be reviewed by the Divisional Safety Officer, the Safety Office (where necessary) and Head of Department. 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.

    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: 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 Travel Evaluation Form) and have it approved before fieldwork travel can begin. The Travel Evaluation Form/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).

    Important, and in addition to University insurance: you must obtain a European Health Insurance Card (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 Neil Clarke at 51 Banbury Road at least 6 weeks before departure. If you have any questions, please contact Neil.


    Useful links

    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.

    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:

    Research specific advice and resources are available from the following excellent website:

    The following webpage is also useful:

    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:

    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 (ChileGhanaSouth 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.

    University Health and Welfare pages.

    The Travel Evaluation Form

    The Travel Evaluation Form for the UK

    Full Risk Assessment

    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.

    School's Statement of Safety Organisation including the Code of Practice in Safety and Overseas Travel.