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NIHR Policy on Preventing Harm in Research


Published: 30 April 2021

Version: 1.0 - April 2021

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People’s workplaces and related working environments should be safe and inclusive. NIHR wants to help ensure this is the case for everyone funded by, involved with or working for NIHR. NIHR expects that, across the wide range of organisations and people it funds, supports and collaborates with, there are clear policies in place to promote and maintain safe and inclusive working environments, including having appropriate polices around bullying and harassment and safeguarding. Organisations should promote a culture of inclusivity, free from harassment and bullying, where everyone is treated with dignity and respect.

What do we mean by preventing harm in research?

Preventing harm in research is an overarching term that encompasses the policies and interventions put in place to protect individuals and address issues such as bullying and harassment or safeguarding.  These terms are further defined below.

Bullying:  This is the misuse of power through ongoing and persistent attacks - verbal, written, electronic, psychological, or physical – on an individual. It is the exercise of power over another person through negative acts and behaviours that undermine that person.

Harassment: Harassment is any unwanted conduct that has the purpose or effect of violating a person's dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them.

Bullying and harassment can include a continuum of repeated behaviours that: 

  • conveys hostility, both through verbal and non – verbal behaviour 
  • forces unwanted attention, objectification, exclusion, or second-class status
  • has a negative effect on the targeted person
  • people may find difficult to defend themselves against (for example, because of a hierarchical relationship with the perpetrator).

Victimisation: occurs when a person is treated less favourably because they have made or are planning to make an allegation of harassment or have participated in an investigation.

Safeguarding:  For safeguarding NIHR uses the definition from UKCDR, which defines safeguarding in research as “preventing and addressing any sexual exploitation, abuse, or harassment of research participants, communities and research staff, plus any broader forms of violence, exploitation and abuse….such as bullying psychological abuse and physical violence”.

NIHR are adopting these definitions as a starting point and will work with others to refine them further so that they can be used to measure the problem and drive and monitor change.

To whom do these expectations apply?

NIHR expectations around preventing harm in research apply to all organisations and individuals defined within the NIHR people framework. This includes:

  • those in receipt of NIHR funding and/or support, including through NIHR research and training programmes
  • organisations in receipt of infrastructure funding e.g. Biomedical Research Centres, those hosting Local Clinical Research Networks 
  • people who sit on our panels and committees
  • those contributing to and/or participating in NIHR- supported studies
  • Staff based within NIHR coordinating centres.  

Expectations of organisations and individuals

As a minimum standard, we expect all organisations in receipt of NIHR funding to have clear policies in place which detail their approach to bullying and harassment (including bullying and harassment via social media) and safeguarding and which ensure they are meeting the expectations set out within the Equality Act 2010These policies should be publicly available (e.g. published on their websites) and actively drawn to the attention of everyone within the organisation.  Detailed procedures should be provided, including a named contact for anyone wishing to report a suspected incident, investigation protocols, and timeframes in which individuals can expect to have their concerns dealt with.

Organisations are expected to adhere to the requirements set out within the NIHR Safeguarding Guidance. As part of this, strengthened safeguarding clauses are now included in all new NIHR research contracts and agreements as of April 2021.  

It is expected that organisations take full account of guidance from the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS). Organisations should be able to demonstrate how their framework meets or exceeds the ACAS guidance. 

Where a serious incident related to safeguarding, bullying or harassment occurs (as defined under ‘serious misconduct’ within the DHSC standard research contract), this should be reported to NIHR using an Incident Reporting Form, in line with the procedures outlined within the NIHR Safeguarding Guidance. Incidents should also be reported through the appropriate authorities including in the relevant employing organisations.   

Individuals wishing to report any other issues in a whistleblowing capacity should do so through their designated programme manager or contact us

From April 2021, all NIHR contracts include clauses requiring organisations in receipt of NIHR funding to comply with the NIHR Safeguarding Guidance. In addition, it is a requirement of NIHR funding for research and career development that host organisations have policies and procedures in place which meet the obligations set out under the Equality Act 2010

In addition, organisations in receipt of NIHR funding are expected to ensure research connected to NIHR support is conducted in accordance with the Concordat to Support Research Integrity, of which NIHR is a signatory. This includes a whistleblowing policy. 

Supporting organisations to achieve best practice 

NIHR is working closely with other funders to promote best practice.  For example, UKRI has already published an evidence review of bullying and harassment in research and innovation environments that organisations in receipt of NIHR funding are encouraged to read and act upon when developing their own policies and procedures. NIHR is committed to updating its position as further evidence and guidance is developed. NIHR is also a part of a new forum set up by funders to focus on tackling bullying and harassment.

When expectations are not met

NIHR takes a supportive approach to help organisations achieve best practice around preventing harm in research which includes setting out the expectations of host organisations as outlined above.  However, as set out in the NIHR contract, if organisations fail to meet these expectations, for example if they are found not to have taken reasonable steps to investigate or resolve an incident, NIHR will take appropriate action.

Developing our approach

NIHR will work closely with other funders through the forum highlighted above in further developing our approach to preventing harm in research, including bullying and harassment and safeguarding.  It is anticipated that, for NIHR, new initiatives will take account of all areas of the NIHR people framework. As part of this, we welcome feedback on the approach outlined here, which will be kept under continuous review.