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(in individually identifiable, re-identifiable or non-identifiable form) as part of an existing or published or unpublished source or database.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.

There have been some important changes to the Human Research Ethics processes. Click here to find out more.

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.

JCU staff or students intending to undertake a research or a teaching project involving any form of human participation (including observation of human activity), access to personal documents or other materials, and access to databases must submit a human ethics application.

Undergraduate projects: If undergraduate students are involved in small research projects involving human participants as part of their assessment, then ethics approval must be sought. Usually the lecturer in charge of the subject would submit an ethics application for the course to cover this assessment requirement, or if appropriate, individual or groups of students may also apply for ethics approval.

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.

Quality assurance activities: Activities conducted inside the University for quality assurance purposes may not require ethics approval. Please email if you are conducting these types of activities. (Note: Quality assurance here means any activity where the primary purpose is to monitor or improve the quality of service delivered by an individual or organisation.)

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

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 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 Unexpected Events

External complaints: To lodge a complaint about the ethical conduct of a research project please contact:

Human Ethics Officer

Research Office

James Cook University

Townsville, Qld, 4811


Ph: (07) 4781 5011

Fax: (07) 4781 5521

JCU Researchers:

Internal complaints: 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 action. If still unresolved, a meeting may be called where the Chair, HREC and Senior Deputy-Vice-Chancellor will discuss the matter with the applicant.

External complaints: If a complaint is received about the conduct of a project (from any source, internal or external), the Human Ethics Officer or Human Ethics Advisor must immediately be advised of the nature of the complaint. 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.

Unexpected 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.

Contact the JCU Connect Human Ethics team

Photo of Helen Griffiths

Helen Griffiths

Human Ethics Officer