Overseas research risks and safety

Where you are planning research that involves overseas fieldwork, it is important to give early thought to the risks that you, or your research staff, might face, and how to keep safe.

The following sections provide you with information and guidance on how to do this.

Risk Assessment for Overseas Research

The University’s overarching Health and Safety Policy for Travelling and Working Abroad can be found online. This includes a helpful checklist and travel advice.

Where the overseas travel is for the purposes of research, it is necessary to complete a Research Risk Assessment and Mitigation Plan (RAMP) – this is part of systematically considering the risks you or your research staff may face, and the steps that will be taken to reduce these risks. 

  • Full guidance and a RAMP template for risk assessment can be found here

On the basis of a risk assessment, you may need to factor in additional costs (e.g. for hotels in a safer part of a city, or taxi fares for travel within an area).  Equally, you will want to consider whether the research questions that you are asking may raise issues for your safety in terms of local sensitivities that will need to be carefully considered.

For overseas research for which the risks are more than trivial, there will be a need to refer your risk assessment to the Chair of your College Health and Safety Committee. For further help or advice please contact Workplace Wellbeing: healthandsafety@contacts.bham.ac.uk

Before you travel

Before you travel, have you thought about:

  • If there are any elections, national holidays, festivals or events taking place in-country that may disrupt your trip?
  • If the weather during your visit could be challenging, is it monsoon or hurricane season?
  • Are there specific customs around dress or public behaviour that need to be taken into account in your destination?
  • Are you likely to visit or travel through high crime areas that may exist in countries that are otherwise perceived as “safe”
  • Have you communicated your travel plans to a colleague and your family/ friends? Have you arranged a ‘check in’ schedule if appropriate?
  • Have you checked to ensure you have required vaccinations, and medication for malaria or other ailments you may pick up while travelling? Do you have enough of any prescription medicines you are already taking?
  • If you are taking prescription medication, have you checked to see if it is legal there and you are allowed to carry this medication with you into the country you are visiting?
  • Do you have systems in place to protect any data you may collect? For example using encrypted USB drives, and cloud services such as BEAR
  • Is it easy for those at home to help you should you need it? Do they know details of a bank account they could move money to, that you are able to access? Do they have the land line number of your hotel? Do they have a photocopy of your passport?

Travel to Foreign Office Amber and Red Zones

Travel to Foreign Office Amber and Red zones for research purposes can only be undertaken with the approval of a ‘Research Travel Panel’, which will be established to consider your request.  The panel will be chaired by the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research & Knowledge Transfer), and include your Head of College, the Director of Legal Services, and the Assistant Director of Human Resources (Workplace Wellbeing).  The panel may take specialist advice in order to enable it to make an informed choice on each travel proposal.

For further help or advice please contact Workplace Wellbeing: healthandsafety@contacts.bham.ac.uk

Insurance

Full details of how to arrange travel insurance through the University visit the Insurance Services pages.

Keeping Safe Abroad – Training, Feedback and Guidance

The University periodically runs courses on keeping safe abroad in connection with research projects.  Look out for information about these. The University’s overarching Health and Safety Policy for Travelling and Working Abroad includes a helpful checklist and travel advice.

Support for when you come back

Undertaking overseas fieldwork can mean that you experience difficult situations, for example, witnessing poverty or deprivation; or hear very upsetting information from participants whilst interviewing them, or in focus groups, etc. 

The University’s Workplace wellbeing team offers a range of Advice, Listening and Support Services, including counselling which staff and students can make use of if they are finding it hard to cope with what they have experienced during their fieldwork.

 

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