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Research Ethics and Safety

The following are the general ethical principles which apply to all research activities.

Research activities should be regarded as a series of systematic enquiries which seek to expand knowledge and understanding. Every effort should be made to conduct the enquiries in a manner which is free from bias, distortion and prejudice. Alternative views about the interpretation of the results should be welcomed and treated with tolerance and respect.

Researchers shall:

  • assume direct responsibility for the intellectual and ethical quality of their work;
  • avoid conflict of interest;
  • demonstrate integrity and professionalism in using research funds;
  • ensure the health and safety of everyone involved in or affected by the research work;
  • respect intellectual property rights; in particular, recognize and acknowledge the contribution of others and scrupulously avoid plagiarism;
  • not use proprietary information contained in confidential documents or in papers seen via the process of peer review;
  • accept that their research results will be subject to peer scrutiny and debate;
  • act fairly, politely and respectfully, without ulterior motive when criticizing thework of others;
  • comply with any conditions set out in the contractual agreements with the research sponsors; and
  • ensure adequate health and safety information and training is provided to everyone involved in the research work.

For more details, please access Section V of the Handbook for Projects and Grants.


General Principles

Before any research in which it is intended to involve human subjects is allowed to proceed, it must be shown that the benefits of the proposed research outweigh the risks involved, and that the risks by themselves are not unacceptably harmful to the subjects.

  • Benefit is defined as “anything that is for the good of a person or thing” (Macquarie Dictionary 1985). It may be personal and direct or may be societal and indirect. It is appropriate to use both forms of benefit in making the judgement of risk/benefit ratio.
  • Risk is defined as “exposure to the chance of injury or loss” while injury is 'harm of any kind done or sustained' (Macquarie Dictionary 1985). It should be noted that no procedure is without risk, although the risks may be minimal.
  • The Declaration of Helsinki# provides basic guidelines with respect to the determination of benefits and risks in the conduct of biomedical research:
    • research involving human subjects cannot legitimately be carried out unless the importance of the objective is in proportion to the inherent risk to the subject.
    • every research project involving human subjects should be preceded by careful assessment of predictable risks in comparison with foreseeable benefits to the subject or to others. Concern for the interests of the subject must always prevail over the interest of science and society.

# World Medical Association. Declaration of Helsinki. Adopted by the 18th World Medical Assembly, Helsinki, Finland, June 1964. Amended by the 29th World Medical Assembly, Tokyo, Japan, October 1975; the 35th World Medical Assembly, Venice, Italy, October 1983; the 41st World Medical Assembly, Hong Kong, September 1989; the 48th General Assembly, Somerset West, Republic of South Africa, October 1996; and the 52nd WMA General Assembly, Edinburgh, Scotland, October 2000. Seventh revision, 64th meeting, Fortaleza (2013).

Informed consent shall normally be obtained from all human subjects who are to be involved in the research. Such consent shall be continual in nature, such that subjects are allowed to back out should the research exceed their expectations of involvement.

The research may involve collecting and storing data relating to individuals and groups, and such data, if disclosed to third parties, may cause harm or distress. Consequently, the researchers shall make arrangements for protecting the confidentiality of such data.

Where personal data concerning individuals and/or groups is collected the Data Protection Principles embodied in the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance apply. Consequently, researchers must consider the 6 Data Protection Principles and make arrangements to comply with the Ordinance.

For more details, please access Section V of the Handbook for Projects and Grants.

 

Ethics defines the moral value of human conduct and the rules and principles that ought to govern it. Staff or students applying to the University for ethical approval for teaching or research involving living vertebrate animals or birds must be licensed under the Animals (Control of Experiments) Ordinance, Cap. 340. Both the person actually carrying out the work and the person nominally in charge must be licensed. The licence specifies the place(s) where experiments may be conducted, and special endorsements and permits are required for using animals:

  • for the purpose of attaining manual skill;
  • for the purpose of illustrating lectures;
  • without administering any anaesthetic or killing the animal.

The responsibility for ensuring that the ethical code for teaching or research involving animal subjects is followed and that facilities and operational procedures for the care of animal subjects comply with the advice given in this code lies with the principal investigator or teacher. This code applies equally when researchers are working outside the University.

For more details, please access Section V of the Handbook for Projects and Grants.

The PolyU Institutional Review Board (IRB), set up under the RC, is the authority for granting ethical clearance for research/teaching projects or investigations involving human subjects (non-clinical) and human subjects (clinical studies). Broadly speaking, projects involving human subjects may be internally or externally funded; they include all projects of research nature and may be conducted by staff and/or students.

Applications for ethical clearance should be obtained from the IRB according to the following arrangement:

If PolyU colleague is the PI of the research/teaching project
  • For research/teaching projects which will conduct experiments on the PolyU campus and/or will collect personal data and information from the human subjects direct, ethical clearance and approval on the processes in which personal data and information will be collected should be obtained from IRB.
  • For research/teaching projects which request for using data received, captured or generated in the course of operation of PolyU, IRB should assess the request according to the Data Governance Framework of PolyU.
  • For experiments to be conducted outside PolyU campus, ethics approval should be obtained from the IRB and, if appropriate, the authority overseeing the location where the experiments will be conducted.
If PolyU colleague is a Co-I or team member of the research
  • The PI of the research team should be responsible for obtaining ethics approval from the relevant ethics committee. The PolyU colleague is required, on need basis, to provide proof on the ethics approval.
  • If data received, captured or generated in the course of operation of PolyU will be used, application should be made to IRB of PolyU, which will assess the request according to the University’s Data Governance Framework.

For more details, please access Section V of the Handbook for Projects and Grants.

The Animal Subjects Ethics Sub-committee (ASESC), set up under the RC, is the authority for granting ethical clearance for teaching or research projects involving animal subjects.

Staff or students who plan to use live animals in teaching or in research must be licensed under the Animals (Control of Experiments) Ordinance, Cap. 340. Those who hold the licence may apply for ethical review online via Animal Subjects Ethics Application Review System (ASEARS).

Applications for ethical clearance should be obtained from the ASESC according to the following arrangement:

If PolyU colleague is the PI of the research/teaching project
  • For experiments to be conducted on the PolyU campus, ethics approval should be obtained from the ASESC.
  • For experiments to be conducted outside PolyU campus, ethics approval should be obtained from the ASESC and, if appropriate, the authority overseeing the location where the experiments will be conducted.  
If PolyU colleague is a Co-I or team member of the research
  • The PI of the research team should be responsible for obtaining ethics approval from the relevant ethics committee. The PolyU colleague is required, on need basis, to provide proof on the ethics approval.

For more details, please access Section V of the Handbook for Projects and Grants.


The University is responsible for ensuring that all safety facilities and procedures comply with current legislative requirements, the University’s Health and Safety Policy and international standards. Staff members and students should consult the Health and Safety Guide of the University which is available on the HSO website.

For research involving the use of hazardous chemicals, biological agents, ionising radiation or non-ionising radiation, the PI is required to seek formal approval from the Research Safety Sub-Committee. The detailed procedure for obtaining safety approval is available in Section A900 of the University's Health and Safety Guide.

Personnel of these kinds of research projects should be trained according to the Safety Training Policy of the University which can be found in the Health and Safety Guide.

The University has secured a Master Clinical Trial Insurance (Master Insurance Plan)for test/trials involving human subjects. The Master Insurance Plan basically covers all projects with tests/trials involving human subjects. This wide scope of coverage is meant to provide the greatest protection to the University and its staff. Colleagues should be reminded that insurance coverage should be obtained for all projects involving tests/trials involving human subjects before the commencement of the relevant projects. The Master Insurance Plan should be one, if not the, choice for colleagues undertaking projects involving tests/trials involving human subjects.

To take out insurance for your projects with tests/trials involving human subjects, please complete an e-Form or Form RC/63 (The University's Master Clinical Trial Insurance Application).

For more details, please access Section V of the Handbook for Projects and Grants.

 

Last update: 20 Oct 2021

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