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I was interested to read the excellent COPE Report paper1 and note the intention ofOccupational and Environmental Medicine to follow these guidelines.
In particular, from the occupational health point of view, I welcome the inclusion of involvement of the study participants in consideration and agreement of the research protocol, although I am a little sad that the COPE Group have restricted their consideration of prepublication information of the results to “patients, especially if there are clinical implications”.
As you are aware, the professional guidance on ethics for occupational physicians2 now includes a specific section on occupational health research which highlights the need to consider release of results, including prepublication briefings to workforces who are the subjects of such research. I know that the BMJ Group have long been in support of this sort of ethical stance, and would hope that in the future COPE might expand their consideration of prepublication information beyond patients and clinical medicine into workers in the occupational setting.
Another area of ethics of research relevant to occupational health not considered by COPE is the field of data access and shared data. Research in the workplace can be consented to by the workforce for a specific purpose, specific protocol, and even on occasions for the use of a specific researcher. There remains the question whether these data once obtained are, or should be, available for others to use in other protocols for other purposes. Certainly in the nuclear industry, we have taken the view that it should not, without revisiting the consent of the workforce. Perhaps this too is an area that COPE might consider in the future.
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