DOE Human Subjects Resources

Creating an Ethical Framework for Studies That Involve the Worker Community

Cover of guideline bookStudies to assess the health effects that may be related to occupational environments and workplace exposures provide data essential to reducing or preventing illnesses, injury, or disease among current and future workers. We have concerns, however, that unless their rights and welfare are fully protected, collecting these data may expose participating study subjects—the workers—to significant personal, professional, and economic risks. There is also the concern that, in some cases, worker studies are not recognized.

Although the concerns imply a need for approaches, safeguards, and scientific and ethical reviews specific to worker studies, there is currently NO formal ethical framework that addresses the unique vulnerability that participating workers face. In the absence of an established and functional ethical framework, and despite the good intentions of the researcher, the employer, and other stakeholders, worker-subjects may be denied adequate protection of their personal autonomy, economic status, or social position.

The purpose of this guidebook is to raise the awareness of all stakeholders to the special needs and issues that apply to research using workers as study subjects. Although this document focuses on issues of concern to DOE, we hope that you will find these recommendations and resources useful in building an effective ethical framework for any worker study.

PDF files of the individual chapters and appendices are available on this Web site, or copies of the handbook can be obtained by contacting:

Elizabeth White
Office of Biological and Environmental Research
SC-23.2, Germantown Building
U.S. Department of Energy
1000 Independence Avenue
Washington, DC 20585-1290
Phone: 301-903-7693
Fax: 301-903-0567

Content reviewed: November 12, 2013