Human research ethics procedures at UWA

A focus on research of an international quality and the fostering of an outstanding research culture have positioned UWA as one of the best universities in Australia and in the top 150 in the world.

Human Ethics Resources

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Human Research Ethics Management At UWA

HREO Procedures At UWA

Human research cannot commence until ethics approval has been obtained and you have been advised by the Human Ethics.


Commencing a human research activity without ethics approval is a serious issue and may constitute research misconduct.

Retrospective ethics approvals cannot be provided, as this would contravene the requirements of the National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research.

You must have ethics approval before you start your research.

When is human research ethics approval required?

Most research activities involving human participants will require a human research ethics review and approval prior to their commencement.

The only exceptions to this requirement relate to:

  • A limited class of research projects in which the only activity being undertaken is the analysis of already-existing, non-identifiable data.
  • Evaluation activities undertaken in the normal course of business, e.g. educational assessments, student feedback surveys, audits of organisational activities and systems, and quality assurance reviews.

However, if you intend to publish the outcomes of a quality assurance or audit evaluation and/or present your findings in a public or professional forum, then you will require formal ethics approval and; therefore, you must submit a human research ethics application.

Shared responsibilities

  • Researchers design the research project and complete all human research ethics application documents.
  • Chief Investigator / Research Supervisor signs the application document and takes responsibility for all aspects of the project.
  • ROAP will request endorsement from your Head of School (or equivalent) who will provide School support for submission of the ethics application to the HREO.
  • The HREO acknowledges receipt of the ethics application by sending an acknowledgment letter to the Chief Investigator.
  • The HREO coordinates the review and approval of the ethics application, which follows one of three ethics review and approval pathways.

How your ethics application will be reviewed

Based on the level of risk involved in human research, the human research ethics review system at UWA includes an exempt status and a 3-tier ethics review hierarchy:

  • Exempt – no risk - Activities that do not require formal ethics review
  • Level 1 – negligible risk - Ethics review by the Human Ethics office
  • Level 2 – low risk - Ethics review by a Regional Ethics Review Committee (RERC)
  • Level 3 – higher risk - Ethics review by Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC)

All applications for ethics approval must be forwarded to the Head of School (or recognised equivalent) for signature and authorisation to submit to the Human Ethics office. The Human Ethics office then reviews the risk assessment checklist submitted by the applicant to determine the risk level for the research proposal and allocates the ethics application to the most appropriate ethics review pathway.

Submission deadlines for ethics applications

Continuous processing

Many human research ethics applications are low risk (Level 2) or negligible risk (Level 1) projects that do not need to be reviewed by the university's NHMRC-registered Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC), which meets on a monthly basis.

Initial processing of ethics applications is undertaken by the Human Ethics office on a continuous basis to allocate proposals to a Level 1, Level 2 or Level 3 approval pathway.

Therefore, when your human research ethics application documents are complete, submit them immediately to the Human Ethics office for processing: if your application is assessed as Level 1 or Level 2, it will not need to be reviewed by the HREC at one of its monthly meetings.

Monthly reviews for higher risk applications

Only higher risk (Level 3) applications that must be reviewed by the HREC will enter that committee’s monthly meeting cycle.

Review and approval timeframes

The Human Ethics office endeavours to process all ethics applications within the minimum timeframe possible. However, in general terms, processing time is longer for more complex applications requiring submission to the Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC) that meets on a monthly basis.

Processing time may also be increased where applications are incomplete or do not meet the required standard for ethics review. Therefore, all researchers have a key role to play in reducing processing time for ethics applications to a minimum.

From the time an ethics application is received by the Human Ethics office, the objective is to process all applications and issue a formal ethics approval letter according to the following schedule:

Level 1 – negligible risk applications   1 week
Level 2 – low risk applications 2-3 weeks (depending on LRRP turnaround)
Level 3 – higher risk applications   
4-6 weeks (depending on HREC turnaround)