Health and Safety Guide for doctoral students
This Guide brings together the University's policy and standards on Health and Safety that are relevant to doctoral students.
As a doctoral student of the University, both you and the university have a responsibility to safeguard your own health and safety, and the health and safety of anyone else who may be affected by your study or research activities.
Under Health and Safety law, when you are carrying out research or associated study activities as a doctoral student, you are required to follow University health and safety policy, standards or guidance.
All doctoral students receive an induction when they start at the university. As part of this, departments are responsible for explaining the arrangements that they have in place to manage health and safety.
This guide has been put together to raise awareness of the types of health and safety matters that you will need to be aware of whilst carrying out your research and study, and the way that you should be supported by the University.
It includes relevant policy, standards and guidance, available support and the contacts you should talk to if needed.
Health and Safety contacts
If you have any concerns about health and safety these should be taken up with your research supervisor in the first instance. They should have experience of the work that you are carrying out and be aware of any significant risks to health and safety posed by your work.
Departmental Health and Safety advice
The Department for Health and the majority of Science, and Engineering and Design departments have appointed Departmental Health and Safety Coordinators to provide local health and safety advice and guidance.
Most departmental Health and Safety Coordinators are members of the Faculty Technical Services Directorates. In other academic departments, the key safety contact is usually the Departmental Coordinator who will typically deal with lower-level concerns, such as computer workstation issues.
Departments may also have a range of other support or expertise depending on the activities carried out. This could include lead advisers for work with specific equipment or materials, as well as general health and safety support such as First Aiders and Fire Wardens.
A number of departments have specific health and safety guidance which must be followed. You can access department specific information below:
- Department of Architecture & Civil Engineering
- Department of Chemical Engineering
- Department of Electrical & Electronic Engineering
Please note, this department is currently updating their guide.
- Department of Mechanical Engineering
- Department of Chemistry
- Department of Computer Science
- Department of Mathematical Sciences
- Department of Pharmacy & Pharmacology
- Department of Physics
The University’s Health, Safety and Environment Service
The University’s Health, Safety and Environment Service (UHSE) can also be contacted for advice and guidance on all matters of health and safety, including activities carried out by doctoral students. In the first instance, it is advised that contact with UHSE should be made through your research supervisor.
If you have a long-term health condition or disability, or have concerns about your mental health that could affect your ability to carry out your research or studies, or which requires additional support in order to secure your health and safety, then we strongly advise you to discuss this with the Student Disability Service. They can provide advice and guidance on how the University can make reasonable adjustments to support you through your time here and assure your health and safety.
It is important to recognise that research and fieldwork activities can be stressful for a variety of reasons, and can therefore raise potential mental health and wellbeing risks. Issues may be through the subject matter of the work (e.g. dealing with vulnerable children, animal health, etc.) or the location that you are working (away from home, isolated overseas fieldwork, etc.) Should you have any such concerns, we strongly recommend that you contact the Wellbeing Service for advice.
It is both a legal and a University requirement that all activities that the University carries out are formally risk assessed. This condition applies regardless of where or when those activities are carried out. If a risk assessment identifies that there is a significant risk of injury then those assessments must be recorded and any identified control measures followed.
Research supervisors are responsible for ensuring that the doctoral students they are supervising are fully assessing risks throughout their research. Ideally, if you are involved in carrying out research tasks then you should be actively involved in the risk assessment process or, at the very least, be familiar with the significant findings of the risk assessments for the work that you will be doing and the control measures that you will need to follow.
The University’s procedure for assessing risks is provided in this Risk Assessments Guidance. This includes a Risk Assessment Template, designed to assess and manage a variety of risks associated with your work activities. There is also the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Risk Assessment Template specifically designed to assess for hazards and risks from substances in the workplace. Guidance on completing COSHH assessments is provided here.
Whilst it has often been the supervisor who has completed risk assessments with the student, it could be good practice as part of your professional development, for you to take the lead in completing this, working closely with your supervisor. Whenever you are assessing risk, it is important to remember that risks may be more than physical, and that psychological risks may also apply.
If you are allocated office space with a workstation then it is your responsibility, as a doctoral student, to carry out a workstation self–assessment. If an issue is identified then you should seek support and advice from a member of staff, either the Work Station Assessor or your Departmental Coordinator. Departments are responsible for providing any specialist equipment, such as ergonomic chairs, specialist keyboards and mice or software, identified as being required by the assessment.
The University is only responsible for providing workstations and work equipment for use at home for people who are contractually designated as home workers. People who choose to work from home on an ad hoc basis are not covered by this. If you choose to work from home then the University cannot take responsibility for your health and safety.
Laboratories and workshops
It is essential that you follow departmental Health and Safety instructions. Laboratory and workshop risk assessments should consider all aspects of the research that you will be doing. This could include assessments of any risks associated with:
Chemical or biological or radiological hazards
Plant, equipment or processes
Gases and gas cylinders.
Occupational Health Surveillance
Occupational Health Surveillance is offered in cases where people are carrying out specific activities where there is a recognised risk of exposure to a hazardous substance or where there is a recognised risk to health associated with the work or activity being carried out. Academic departments will identify staff and students who are carrying out such activities and all will be offered surveillance. This Health Surveillance Toolkit includes forms and guidance on a range of specific risks.
Occupational Health Surveillance is sometimes confused with Occupational Health which is limited to staff and relates to supporting employees who have significant health conditions or disabilities that may require workplace adjustments. Doctoral students can access this type of Occupational Health support through Student Services.
As a doctoral student you may work away from the University in the UK or overseas. This might include carrying out fieldwork, going on placement or making institutional visits. This Guide to off-campus research activities will help you to prepare for your trip.
Notify us if you are working off campus
It is compulsory that you inform the Doctoral College if you are working off campus by completing the Off-Campus Activities Notification form and returning it to your Doctoral Programmes Administrator.
At certain times, the University may need to respond to the needs of students and staff when an emergency situation arises overseas. It is important you let us know your plans so that we can support you in situations like this.
You may also find the following links useful:
As well as risks to your physical health, certain types of research can pose very real psychological risks. These might be when directly dealing with traumatic events, or indirectly in talking to victims of trauma. In all cases see the advice on Vicarious Trauma.
Risks from others
Some research can be very sensitive, and occasionally researchers can be at risk from physical attack or other negative reactions from certain groups within society. Examples might include interviewing volatile members of society, criticising a student’s own government or employer (who are known to react badly to criticism), research into criminal gangs or extremist group activities, and use of animals in research. If this is the case then safeguarding approaches must be agreed from the start.
The Social Research Association’s SRA Safety Code of Practice provides some very useful guidance on safety in interviewing or observation in private settings but is also relevant to working in unfamiliar environments in general. It also lists the range of risks that researchers may face when involved in close social interaction: (i) risk of physical threat or abuse; (ii) risk of psychological trauma, as a result of actual or threatened violence or the nature of what is disclosed during the interaction; (iii) risk of being in a comprising situation, in which there might be accusations of improper behaviour; (iv) increased exposure to risks of everyday life and social interaction, such as road accidents and infectious illness, and; (v) risk of causing psychological or physical harm to others.
Students have occasionally used a pseudonym for research activities, have removed their entry from the UoBath’s web-based Person-Finder, and have used an open-ended restriction on the access to their final thesis.
Useful further reading includes:
- (Anon) Travel topics: stay safe (accessed 15/03/21)
- Williamson, AE (2014) The safety of researchers and participants in primary care qualitative research Br J Gen Pract. 2014 Apr; 64(621): 198–200. DOI: 10.3399/bjgp14X679480
- Bloor, M. Fincham, B and Sampson, H (2010) Unprepared for the Worst: Risks of Harm for Qualitative Researchers Methodological Innovations Online (2010) 5(1) 45-55. DOI: 10.4256/mio.2010.0009