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The Health and Safety Challenges of Researching Vulnerable People for a range of housing research projects. Nadia Bashir Research Associate [email protected] Introduction.

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The Health and Safety Challenges of Researching Vulnerable People for a range of housing research projects

Nadia Bashir

Research Associate

[email protected]


  • This (emerging) paper focuses on the specific H&S challenges of conducting qualitative interviews with vulnerable people in their homes

  • With emphasis being on the risk to the health and safety of the researcher (O'Reilly & Parker 2013)

  • Touching on existing policies and procedures


  • Reflect on experiences in the field as a research team member involved in several housing research projects

  • Draw on diary entries made during/after fieldwork to produce case studies

  • Outline the health and safety challenges (2 case studies) and how these situations were managed/resolved

  • Contribute to the small body of literature, drawing attention to this neglected area of housing research

  • Concluding thoughts

Vulnerable people – why the Challenges?

  • Vulnerable people (state of mind, dependency, chaotic lifestyles) (Campbell & Pyer 2012)

  • Talking about sensitive/personal/emotive subjects (Bahn & Weatherill 2012; Dicken-Swift et al 2007)

  • Location (living in deprived, high crime areas/estates, mid/high-rise flats, presence of dogs, stigmatised &/or blacklisted areas)

  • Living in poverty (housing conditions, lighting, space)

Using diary-keeping as a source of information

  • Timely record-keeping, i.e. immediately/soon after fieldwork

  • Useful way of recording/reporting events, conditions, emotions, environment

  • Allow the opportunity to critically reflect on experiences

  • Reviewing practices/procedures

Case study 1

  • Mrs A lives in a flat (mid-rise block), with the entrance at the rear of the building. Upon entering a long narrow hallway in her flat I immediately faced an accusation from Mrs A, and it was difficult to collect my composure, because not only was I confronted by a very aggressive interviewee, but also her two aggressive pitbull terrier dogs. One dog jumped at me from the settee whilst the other tugged at the hem of my trousers

  • 'I got a call from the council office this morning saying that somebody said that I'd moved out the area and I've moved to London. So at the minute they've stopped my benefit'

  • Response: managing immediate risk and then diffusing aggression

Case study 2

  • Mr B is alcohol dependent. He is drinking lager when I arrive at his home in the morning. I immediately notice 3 dogs barricaded under the staircase using a makeshift large piece of cardboard, and I can see and hear a bigger dog barking nonstop outside. This is unnerving, more so than Mr B’s heavy drinking:

    'have at least four to six cans a day just to be able to take away the shakes in the morning'

  • Response: do the interview, be assertive, but shorten the interview

Resolving challenging situations

Concluding thoughts/comments

  • Diary-keeping is a valuable method of recording events and can inform practice and learning

  • Establish formal systems for debriefing (O'Reilly & Parker 2013)

  • Take up training opportunities e.g. diffusing aggression

  • Importance of sharing experiences from the field (discussion, writing)


Bahn, S. and Weatherill, P. (2012). Qualitative social research: a risky business when it comes to collecting ‘sensitive’ data, Qualitative Research, 13:1, 19-35.

Bloor, M. Fincham, B. and Sampson, H. (2007). Qualiti (NCRM) Commissioned Inquiry into the Risk to Well-Being of Researchers in Qualitative Research. Cardiff: School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University. Available at:

Bloor, M. Fincham, B. and Sampson, H. (2010). Unprepared for the worst: risks of harm for qualitative researchers. Methodological Innovations Online, 5:1, 45-55.

Campbell, J. & Pyer, M. (2012). Qualitative researching with vulnerable groups. International Journal of Therapy and Rehabilitation, 19:6, 311-316.

Dicken-Swift, V. James, E L. Kippen, S. and Liamputtong, P. (2007). Doing sensitive research: what challenges do qualitative researchers face? Qualitative Research, 7:3, 327-353.

Gates, M F. & Moch, S D. (2000). The Researcher Experience in Qualitative Research. London & New Delhi: SAGE Publications.

Lee, R M. (1995). Dangerous Fieldwork. London & New Delhi: SAGE Publications.

O'Reilly, M. & Parker, N. (2013). "We Are Alone in the House": A Case Study Addressing Researcher Safety and Risk, Qualitative Research in Psychology, 10:4, 341-354.

Shaffir, W B. & Stebbins, R A. (eds). (1991). Experiencing Fieldwork: An Inside View of Qualitative Research. London & New Delhi: SAGE Publications.

Social Research Association (SRA) 2005, Staying safe: a code of practice for the safety of social researchers [Accessed 1 April 2014]

The Health and Safety Challenges of Researching Vulnerable People for a range of housing research projects

Nadia Bashir

Research Associate

[email protected]

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