Following an initial suspension of face-to-face research, we have progressively eased restrictions in line with state and territory government regulations. We’re sending regular email updates to our researchers advising on the easing of these restrictions and the current status of research. Please check your ACU email account often and make sure you’re familiar with the advice relevant to you.
The advice below was provided on 1 November 2020.
It is now possible to conduct all types of research (with the exception of research involving at-risk participants) across every Australian jurisdiction (although travel between some jurisdictions is still restricted).
Please note that the conduct of research involving face-to-face and physical contact is contingent upon adherence to the below outlined hygiene and risk management protocols:
- A screening protocol must be implemented to ensure any participants attending ACU facilities and/or coming into close/physical contact with ACU staff are, as much as can be reasonably ascertained, healthy and at low risk of transmitting COVID-19. We will allow individual research groups to develop protocols that best suit their needs but require that, at a minimum, you confirm participant health status and risk-level prior to participation and again on the day of participation. For guidance, download our screening tool template (PDF), which you are free to use or tailor to your needs.
- On the day of participation (or if multiple days, on their first participation), ask research participants to provide you with a current mobile number or email address, and keep a log of who has attended the research space (including staff movements). This information may be required to support contact tracing efforts, and records should be maintained for a period of at least 28 days (from a participant’s last participation). To protect the privacy and confidentiality of your research participants, these records should be stored securely and separately to their personal research data.
- In engaging with research participants, adopt enhanced hygiene practices. This includes regularly washing hands, avoiding touching your face, following cough and sneeze etiquette, increasing access to fresh air by (where possible) opening doors and windows, and disinfecting devices, equipment and surfaces used in research. You should also make it easy for your participants to practise good hygiene. This includes providing access to tissues and hand sanitiser, removing items that might spread infection (such as waiting room magazines), and clearly signposting bathrooms and wash areas. For more information on good hygiene practice, view the Australian Government Department of Health Good Hygiene for COVID-19 Information webpage. For guidance on good cleaning/disinfecting practice, download the Safe Work Australia Workplace Cleaning Checklist (PDF).
- For all close/physical contact with research participants, employ personal protective equipment (PPE). This includes, at a minimum, disposable gloves, face masks (level 1, 2 or 3 surgical mask) and gowns. It is the responsibility of the named chief investigator to ensure that appropriate PPE is provided to researchers and, where applicable, participants, as well as to ensure researchers are trained in the appropriate use of PPE and that records of this training are maintained.
- Where it is not absolutely necessary to be in close/physical contact with research participants, revert to standard social distancing protocols, including:
- maintaining a physical distance of at least 1.5 metres from others
- allowing for four square metres of space for each person within the premises
- limiting contact time to two hours
- limiting gatherings in line with state/territory requirements (ensure you account for both ACU staff and research participants).
- As much as possible, minimise unnecessary contact. This includes scheduling the arrival and departure of participants so that they do not come into contact with one another, and ensuring that only those researchers/staff whose presence is required are onsite.
- While engaging with research participants, it is your responsibility to regularly check in with them and monitor for signs of ill-health. If you suspect a participant is showing signs of COVID-19 infection (noting these can be similar to the signs of influenza or the common cold), you should suspend their participation in the research immediately, and take the following measures:
- Send the participant home, ensuring they exit the premises quickly and with minimal contact
- As appropriate, encourage the participant to seek medical advice and/or be tested for COVID-19
- Where there is a risk of exposure to ACU staff, these staff should self-isolate, seek medical advice and/or be tested for COVID-19
- Clean areas and items with which the participant has come into contact
- Inform your head of department and this office (email@example.com) at the earliest opportunity
- Inform ACU via the link to COVID-19 medical advice and reporting
- As appropriate, follow up with the participant to confirm their status
- As appropriate, re-engage with the participant.
For guidance on identifying the symptoms of COVID-19, download the Australian Government Department of Health poster. To ensure you and your colleagues are aware of and have easy access to this information, you may wish to print a copy and post it within your research premises.
It is the responsibility of all researchers to ensure these protocols are followed and documented and researchers should be aware that their projects and protocols may be subject to an audit by the Research Ethics and Integrity team at any time, without notice.
- In line with guidance from ACU’s Recovery Management Team on a return to work, researchers who are themselves at increased risk of COVID-19 infection should speak to their supervisor about the risks and available options before engaging in face-to-face research.
- The above advice applies to all research being conducted under the auspices of the ACU Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC). For ACU researchers working under the auspices of an external HREC (such as a hospital HREC), and where no research is conducted on ACU premises, researchers should defer to the guidance being provided by that HREC.
As you are all aware the COVID-19 situation is evolving rapidly. In addition to following the relevant public health orders in the state or territory in which you work, as well as the guidance being provided by ACU, we ask that you exercise common sense in avoiding unnecessary risks to you and your research participants. As always, be aware that it may be necessary to suspend or make changes to your research at short notice.