Human Research Ethics

What is human research?

Human research is conducted with or about people, or their data or tissue. Human participation in research is therefore to be understood broadly to include the involvement of human beings through: taking part in surveys, interviews or focus groups; undergoing psychological, physiological or medical testing or treatment; being observed by researchers; researchers having access to their personal documents or other materials; the collection and use of body organs, tissues or fluids (e.g skin, blood, urine, saliva, hair, bones, tumour and other biopsy specimens) or their exhaled breath; access to their information (in individually identifiable, re-identifiable or non-identifiable form) as part of an existing or published or unpublished source or database.

The James Cook University Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC) reviews all research and teaching applications in accordance with the National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research (2007) - Updated 2018.

The James Cook University Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC) reviews all research and teaching applications in accordance with the National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research (2007) - Updated 2018.

What activities require ethical review? All human research projects conducted at the University (both in JCU-Australia and JCU-Singapore), or by staff and students of the University, must undergo ethical review. The JCU HREC will accept applications from all JCU staff and students, and adjunct staff but only where the research is being conducted under JCU’s auspices.

The National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Researchdefines human research as ‘research that is conducted with or about people, their data or tissue’, and may involve human participation in:

  • Surveys, interviews or focus groups.
  • Comparing or investigating psychological, physiological or medical research.
  • Clinical trials.
  • Observation by researchers.
  • Researchers having access to oral histories, personal documents or other materials.
  • The collection and use of body organs, tissues or fluids (eg skin, blood, urine, saliva, hair, bones, tumour and other biopsy specimens, etc.) or their exhaled breath.
  • Access to their information (identifiable, re-identifiable or non-identifiable form) as part of an existing published or unpublished source or database.

Undergraduate Student Projects: Undergraduate students conducting small research projects involving human participants as part of their course assessment will need to ethical review for these projects. However, in some cases it may be possible for the lecturer in charge of the subject to submit a single ethics application for the course to cover these smaller projects. Please contact the ethics team to confirm requirements for your proposed projects.

Teaching activities: Teaching activities that involve physiological or psychosocial experiments, taking of tissue or blood samples, administration of any substances, any stressful activities, recording of any personal information and administration of surveys require ethics approval to be obtained.

Exempt Research: The National Statement allows certain human research to be exempted from ethical review if it:

  • “Is negligible risk research
  • Involves only the use of existing collections of data or records that contain only non-identifiable data about human beings” (Read Sections 5.1.22-23)

If you plan to carry out human research using only existing data or records and non-identifiable data, please contact the ethics team for advice as to whether your research requires ethical review.

Quality assurance activities: Quality assurance activities do not require ethical review, however they must be carried out according to ethical principles. For information on ethics in quality assurance activities read the NHMRC’s Ethical considerations in quality assurance and evaluation activities, and researchers are encouraged to read Section 2(e) Triggers for consideration of ethical review when deciding whether they need to request ethical review.

If your research involves Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, please click here.

Unsure whether your research needs ethical review? If you plan to conduct research involving human participants, their data or information but are unsure whether your research needs ethical review, please check with the Ethics Office before beginning your work, as retrospective approvals cannot be provided.

    Researchers intending to apply for ethical clearance for their research should:

    Human Ethics Advisors are academic employees of James Cook University who review ethics applications for teaching and research involving human participants in accordance with the National Health and Medical Research Council National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research, 2007. The Advisors are nominated for appointment by the Dean of College and review ethics applications in broad discipline areas and provide advice to academic staff and students on ethics matters.

    The Advisor’s role is to offer advice on a draft of your application in relation to the National Statement and assist you to understand what is required before your application is submitted to the Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC) for review. The Advisor provides a recommendation to the HREC on the application. Advisors also review amendments to ethics applications for approval by the HREC.

    Click here for the full list of Human Ethics Advisors at JCU.

    If you are working on or conducting a human research project that has been approved by another Human Research Ethics Committee, you don't have to also submit an application to the JCU HREC but you do have to notify the Ethics Office. We can then acknowledge the external HREC's approval.

    Please complete the Cover Sheet for External HREC Approvals document below and submit it with:

    • The completed Cover Sheet for External HREC Approvals  (DOCX, 230 KB)
    • A copy of the ethics application that was approved including Participant Information Sheet and Consent Form, and any supporting documents (except CVs)
    • A copy of any comments from the external HREC and the response to the comments (if applicable)
    • A copy of the approval notice issued by the external HREC

    Submit all the documents to ethics@jcu.edu.au and your external HREC approval can be acknowledged by the Human Ethics Officer.

    If you have a HREC approval from a Health Service District HREC or are doing research in an Education Queensland facility/school, please refer to the  information provided in the links below:

    Click here for the meting and closing dates for Human Ethics Applications for 2020-21.

    Any ethics application received after the closing date to Human Ethics Advisors will be held over to the next meeting of the Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC). Meetings are held on the last Wednesday of each month, except for December. There is no January HREC meeting.

    HREC decisions will be released seven to ten working days after the meeting date. Most applications are approved at the meeting, but the HREC may request further details or amendments from applicants or a resubmission of an application to the next meeting. In planning your research project, please allow a maximum of two months for passage of your application from submission to approval.

    Low/Negligible risk ethics applications can be submitted at any time as they are reviewed on a continual basis.

    Complaints and Adverse Events

    To lodge a complaint or raise a concern about the ethical conduct of a research project please contact:

    Human Ethics Officer

    JCU Connect

    James Cook University

    Townsville, Qld, 4811

    Email: ethics@jcu.edu.au

    Ph: (07) 4781 5011

    Complaints and Concerns:

    If you receive a complaint about the conduct of a project (from any source, internal or external), the Human Ethics Officer or Human Ethics Advisor must immediately be advised. If the Human Ethics Officer or Human Ethics Advisor receives a complaint about any project, the researcher will be contacted. The HREC will follow up and investigate all complaints and take corrective action where necessary.

    Complaints or Enquiries about your HREC Application or Review Outcome:

    If an applicant is concerned by the way a human ethics application was processed or by a decision of the HREC, in the first instance, please contact the Human Ethics Officer or the Human Ethics Advisor of the project. If concerns remain unresolved after discussing the issue with the Human Ethics Officer or Human Ethics Advisor, the matter may be referred to the Chair, HREC for advice and actionAdverse events:

    Adverse Events:

    The HREC must be promptly notified of any unexpected adverse or serious events that may impact participant welfare or the conduct of the project. The Human Ethics Officer or Human Ethics Advisor of the study should be contacted to report such incidences and a Adverse Event Report Form completed and submitted..

    Contact the JCU Connect Human Ethics team

    Photo of Helen Griffiths

    Helen Griffiths

    Human Ethics Officer

    ethics@jcu.edu.au