Ethical approval for research

Researchers should seek ethical approval when the research they are proposing to conduct is with or about people. Research may yield and analyse information that people provide directly; that has been collected about them, or relates to their tissue.

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) is the peak funding body for medial and health research in Australia and promotes the development and maintenance of public and individual health care and research standards. 

The National Health and Medical Research Council guidelines outline a wide range of ways in which people might be involved in research:

  • through direct conversations
  • by being involved in testing
  • being observed or
  • having their information accessed in identifiable or de-identified forms. 

Even when research does not directly involve humans or information on humans, the research might have a foreseeable impact on the lives of others and/or may raise ethical questions for researchers and for those ethically reviewing research.  In these circumstances ethical approval might be required.

The UnitingCare Queensland Human Research Ethics Committee expects research within the organisation to:


Low risk and higher risk research

Research is defined as ‘low risk’ by the NHMRC “where the only foreseeable risk is one of discomfort” (Section 2.1.6, p.18). “(W)here the risk, even if unlikely, is more than inconvenience, the research is not negligible risk” (Section 2.1.7, p.18).  In essence if the level of risk is assessed as low and the research does not relate to a number of population groups or interventions identified in 5.1.6, the organisation operating under NHMRC guidelines may set up alternate mechanisms to approve research using its staff/clients.

In UnitingCare Queensland, all research involving people must be referred to the UnitingCare Queensland Human Research Ethics Committee. Research that is classified as low risk can be dealt with through expedited review by the Chair of the Ethics Committee in consultation with members. All research that is classified as of higher risk is referred to a meeting of the UnitingCare Queensland Human Research Ethics Committee. 

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