The COVID-19 pandemic has necessitated the restriction of fieldwork for our research community. Research taking place is now limited to that deemed “essential,” as defined in the update from the (acting) Vice-President Research on March 20, 2020. The University recognizes that research has continued in earnest since the on-going restrictions were imposed and applauds the research community for continuing to advance their work from off-site in a manner that fully respects Public Health directives. While working from home continues to remain the preference, the University, informed by the advice of public health officials and by the legislation and guidance of the Province of Ontario and Government of Canada, has planned for a gradual, phased increase for fieldwork activity.
McMaster’s phased approach will allow us to increase fieldwork activity while maintaining the health and safety of all personnel as well as the communities in which we live and work. This gradual return will facilitate the fulfilment of the University’s research mandate in compliance with all government, public health and university guidelines and directives consistent with the Strategic Research Plan, “Research for a Brighter World.”
“Fieldwork,” for this purpose, refers to all research conducted outside the physical boundaries of McMaster University’s campuses and those of its affiliated hospital partners and McMaster Innovation Park; it does not refer to research done “remotely” through electronic devices.
The University will adhere to and promote relevant public health directives. In particular, the University and its researchers will comply with both the letter and spirit of the province’s document “A Framework for Reopening our Province.” The University will protect the physical, mental and emotional health and safety of its researchers and will ensure that no researcher feels compelled to engage in fieldwork. Researchers who feel uncomfortable about their work situation, for whatever reasons, may confidentially report their concerns to their Dean, Associate Dean of Research (ADR) or the (acting) VPR. In keeping with the current supervisory, PIs will retain responsibility for their research teams.
It is recognized that University policies and guidance may be more restrictive than government and health agency policies. PIs and researchers are cautioned that, if issues of public health and safety develop during any phase of increased activity, permission for some or all components of fieldwork may be withdrawn. There may be a need to stop all non-essential research again should there be direction from Public Health or if McMaster has any concerns for the well-being of its personnel or the broader community with whom the personnel interacts. As such, on short notice, researchers must be prepared to shut down their research in a safe manner within the shortest period possible, and return home. Essential research as previously defined, may be allowed to continue.
Entering Phase 1:
Phase 1 will allow limited fieldwork activity. This Phase does not signal a return of researchers to “normal” field research and must be restricted to only those cases where the inability to perform fieldwork presents extremely serious obstacles and consequences for graduate students and researchers completing their studies. As always, the health and safety of our university community remain our top priority and responsibility.
Researchers- including those previously approved through the earlier “exemption for essential research” process- will complete an online form that includes plans for their proposed fieldwork activity. Approval must be received from the Department Chair and/or the ADR before activity takes place. The plan will adhere to the policies outlined in this document and other relevant documents including McMaster’s Workplace Health and Safety Guidance, where guidelines specific to fieldwork during COVID-19 will be posted in the coming days.Personnel must be restricted to the bare minimum required to complete the project and all points listed in RMM 801 and the policies and fieldwork guidelines of Environmental and Occupational Health Support Services (EOHSS) must be strictly adhered to.
Plans can be submitted through an online form. Once submitted, the plan will move forward for review by the Department Chair and/or ADR. Researchers will recieve an email once the review is complete, letting them know of the outcome. This may take a few days.
The online form will ask researchers to provide:
- A brief rational for why an inability to perform fieldwork will result in extremely serious obstacles and/or consequences for graduate students and/or researchers completing their studies
- Specific locations and expected dates of where and when fieldwork will take place
- Names of the research personnel involved in the fieldwork (NOTE: fieldwork is limited to the fewest number of personnel required to conduct the work)
- Plans for a safe shut down and return home within the shortest period possible if called for by the University and/or Public Health officials
- Researchers will be asked to confirm that:
- McMaster’s pandemic-specific Workplace Health and Safety Guidance guidelines and fieldwork guidelines are understood and will be followed by all members of the research team
- no research will involve face-to-face human participants
- there is a prepared a health and safety plan, specific to their proposed location and activities, on how they will protect themselves and all members of the research team
- each member of the research group has read and agrees to comply with RMM 801, the additional fieldwork guidelines provided by EOHSS and the PI’s trip specific plan before leaving for the field
- after the fieldwork is completed, individual confirmation that all of the guidelines provided by EOHSS and PI’s trip specific plan have been complied with. Any exception must be explained in enough detail to aid in subsequent tracking
Instructions related to hygiene, physical/social distancing, and wellness testing are found in the Workplace Health and Safety Guidance. PIs will need to work with all research personnel on their teams to establish protocols for each of these requirements.
Collection of animals that fall within the Canada Council on Animal Care (CCAC) legislation and are intended to be held in McMaster’s Animal Care Facilities must receive specific approval form the McMaster Animal Care Facilities.
Increasing Phased Return to Fieldwork Activity
Phases 2 and 3 are in large part aligned with Stages 2 and 3 of “A Framework for Reopening our Province.” Dates will be determined by the President and Vice-Presidents and announced by the (acting) Vice-President Research. More detailed instructions on those phases will be made available before specific dates are announced. In each phase, EOHSS and Facility Services will provide researchers with directions on physical/social distancing and hygiene practices.
McMaster’s entry into Phase 2 will be dependent on an assessment of the success of Phase 1. Working remotely remains the preferred method, but other important fieldwork that does not fall into the categories described above may proceed. Personnel will be restricted to the bare minimum required to complete the project and all points listed in RMM 801 and the policies and guidelines from EOHSS and Facility Services must be strictly adhered to.
Similarly, McMaster’s entry into Phase 3 will be dependent on an assessment of the success of Phase 2. Continuing return of fieldwork with relaxation of restrictions on geographical areas open for study, modes of transportation and increased opportunity for the involvement of untrained undergraduate and graduate students. Points listed in RMM 801 must be strictly adhered to.