Personal threat

Specific threats of violence arising from the nature of the fieldwork (for example social research on contentious topics or with volatile individuals) or to the individual fieldworker (race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation etc.) must be considered, and controls detailed in the risk assessment process.

Many situations will increase the likelihood of personal attack and should be avoided.  The likelihood of each hazard causing harm will depend on your individual project and should form part of the risk assessment.  Examples of potential hazards related to security are listed in table below.

Case Study

An Imperial College researcher is open about her sexual orientation in the workplace in the UK and is in a same sex marriage. She social mediahas been invited to conduct some research as part of a joint project with a research institute in Russia. She has a private Social Media page with pictures of her wedding. The researchers she is working with are aware, however, there is a chance she may be at risk on entering the country and being detained for her sexual orientation, as it is deemed illegal in Russia. 
Solution: staff should be advised of the risks and may wish to temporarily close their social media account(s). Having a way in which to contact home and an early exit strategy would keep the individual safer. It may also be worth exploring being able to feed into the research remotely is the risks are too great. College insurance options should also be explored, as well as accommodation options prior to her arrival.

Your Safety

Your Safety


You must have a reliable and effective means of communicating when working off site.  e.g your mobile phone must be enabled to be used in the location you are in.

Displaying wealth or consumer goods

Overt displays of consumer wealth such as mobile phones, laptops, cash, credit cards, jewellery etc... may single you out as a potential target for assault and robbery or theft.

When you go out in public take with you only what you need.  Use hands free sets for mobile phones and keep the phone hidden.  Cover watches, do not wear jewellery, hide lap tops from view   

Kidnap and abduction

You should avoid travel to countries or regions where there is a significant risk of kidnap or abduction. These areas can be identified on the FCO web pages and from the Colleges list of disturbed or sanctioned. For more information please seek advice from your PI, local safety officer, the insurance Officer or the Safety Department. However in recognition of a global threat there are a few simple procedures that you should follow when working overseas:

  1. Do not be predictable.  Vary your routine, travel by different routes from your accommodation to the work location and vary the times of travel.
  2. Do not travel alone.
  3. Do not use taxi’s that have not been recommended by a reputable hotel.  If you are arriving at an airport make sure that your travel arrangements have been made in advance and that you will know and recognise your driver.
  4. Do not get into vehicles with strangers.
  5. Do not get led into alleyways or “private” locations by seemingly well meaning individuals such as street vendors, sales people, guides, “camel” rides or even those claiming to have a sick friend.
  6. Be observant.  If you think you are being followed try to get into a public place, e.g. a Hotel foyer or anywhere where there is a security presence.  Report the incident immediately to local security services and your in country contacts.
  7. Try to blend in and look confident.  If you look like a hard target the less determined criminal will look elsewhere.

Rail/ train/ tube travel


  • Know the train departure time to avoid hanging around on the platform for extended periods of time.
  • Know the journey time and expected arrival time. This will ensure you get off at the right stop and is important information for planning your collection at your destination. 
  • Check for delays before you travel as you may need to make new arrangements for collection at your destination and keep your colleagues informed of your journeys progress.
  • Plan your arrival so that you can and get off the train and walk with confidence to your next location.
  • If you are mobility impaired pre-arrange with the rail service provider for any assistance that you might need.
  • If you are part of a group make sure everyone is aware of the plans for onward travel upon arrival at your destination, share telephone numbers, and arrange where to meet just in case someone gets separated.

Travelling alone

  • Try to avoid travelling alone, where possible travel with a trusted colleague.
  • Be aware, look about you, and do not listen to headphones as these can reduce your perception of your surroundings.
  • Look confident about your actions
  • Keep your possessions close to you and visible at all times.
  • Make sure that your valuables are kept out of sight.
  • When you board, choose a carriage where you feel comfortable.
  • If you feel unsafe or threatened move to another carriage, inform the train guard where available.  If the situation requires it, initiate your offsite work emergency plan, activate your personal security devices or apps, contact the local security services and your friends or colleagues.
  • Where possible always sit in an area covered by CCTV
  • Protect your privacy. DO NOT display personal details on a mobile phone, luggage label, document, or laptop.
  • Note where the emergency alarm and alternative exits are located.
  • Do not fall asleep
  • Do not travel while intoxicated as this makes you an easier target for criminals and may be a criminal offence.


  • Choose a parking bay close to an exit, in a well-lit area, covered by CCTV.
  • Before leaving your vehicle, ensure that it is securely locked and that valuables are hidden.
  • Do not leave keys or personal details in the vehicle.
  • If you take a taxi from the station please refer to the advice on Taxi’s below.


Even if a taxi or mini cab is sourced from a trusted or recommended company, you are getting into a stranger’s car.  You must take sensible precautions including those issued by the service provider.  This includes:

  1. Use the taxi company’s formal methods for booking the service.
  2. Try not to travel alone, always share a ride with a colleague where possible.
  3. Know precisely where you want to go and the route that should be taken
  4. Check that the vehicle and driver are the ones you ordered.  Check the firm, the drivers licence and his name, appearance and ID all match.
  5. DO NOT get in the front seat, always ride in the back.
  6. Make sure that the driver knows you are in touch with a friend or colleague, even if you make a fictitious call.  Say where you are, who your driver is and when you are expected to arrive.
  7. Do not share any personal contact information with the driver.  This includes phone numbers, other details about your trip plans or accommodation.
  8. If there is a dispute, be polite but firm. 
  9. If you are concerned about the driver’s behaviour ask to stop and be let out as soon as it is safe to do so.  If they refuse do not remain silent.  Contact the emergency services immediately, activate any personal security help devices or apps and contact a friend or colleague.  If you are sat in the rear of the vehicle it makes it difficult for the driver to prevent you doing this.  

Work related risk and the nature of your work

Work related risks and the nature of your work

Clinical research - the assumption that you are carrying drugs or needles

In clinical research projects, those involved may assume that of you are a medical person, therefore in public avoid looking like a "medic" e.g. stethoscope round the neck, big important looking medical bag, etc.   

Deliberate work with animals

Conduct a full risk assessment of all aspects of the activity and ensure staff are properly trained, physical precautions are in place and medical advice and support is available.

Drug and alcohol abuse

Try to avoid working with intoxicated individuals.  Arrange to see them when they are sober or off drugs.  

Individuals may be unpredictable and they may be desperate for money and see you as a relatively rich target.

Emotive subject matter

For example, Interviews of HIV positive persons in sex studies may touch on sensitive or emotive subjects.  Ensure you or your staff are trained to communicate and deal with these subjects in a sensitive manner.

Interviewing patients and vulnerable situations

When interviewing patients or in any social interaction situation consider your escape routes.  Try to make sure there is an exit behind you, position furniture such as a desk between you and the patient.  When out and about do not walk down the proverbial dark alley.  Take local advice on what areas are safe, at what times and when not to go out.

Lone working- are you perceived as an easy target?

In clinical situations try to avoid being totally alone, even if a trusted colleague is not in the room they should be within shouting distance. If designing interview rooms from scratch ensure there are security cameras in vulnerable locations and that reception staff are physically protected from attack by raised desks or / and security screens. For home visits and confidential interviews tracking and emergency call devices are available that are incorporated into security ID cards and can be activated covertly thus helping to prevent a heated situation escalating to violence before help arrives.  Once activated as well as sending a location and alarm message to the 24 hr help centre some of these devices can record conversations once activated for use as evidence at a later date. If you are conducting field work again try to avoid working alone. This will be risk based but always bear in mind If something unexpected happens you must always have a means of escape or rescue. Consider the possibility that you may be incapacitated and unable to call for help yourself.  

Your environment, local customs and law

Remember that when engaged on Imperial College business whether or not you are on "free time" you not only represent yourself as a human being but also Imperial College.  Anti-social behaviour will not be accepted and supervisors should always consider sending offenders home to avoid jeopardising the expedition, the safety of those remaining and any future plans.

Your environment, local customs and law

Discarded munitions

Many areas of the world, including Europe, have been the site of recent wars or have been former military training areas.  If you find discarded or spent munitions including cartridge cases, do not touch or approach, they may be live, old and unstable.  Some anti personnel mines activate in response to vibration or tampering.  Mark the area and inform your supervisor or a local guide 

Encountering dangerous animals

These include:  feral dogs, large carnivores, stinging or biting insects and, snakes.

  1. Avoid feral animals, do not attempt to pet or feed them by hand, they may carry disease such as rabies.
  2. Avoid leaving camp sites at night unless on an organised and risk assessed trip.
  3. Use bed nets as appropriate and check foot wear and clothing for snakes, insects and arachnids before putting them on.


Local customs and religion

Ensure staff are briefed on issues that may provoke confrontation or angry response.  Be sensitive to local customs and religion.  Many Islamic countries require you to dress modestly especially women. Be aware of international politics and behave accordingly.

Threats of violence arising

Ensure you are trained to diffuse a situation verbally.  Where possible, and as a last resort staff should be able to defend them selves e.g. have a knowledge of self defence. In extreme circumstances consider PPE such as stab proof vests worn under outer garments. If a patient is known to be violent or unpredictable ensure you are not alone, that you have an escape route, can call for immediate help and try to ensure that the member of staff dealing with this person is unlikely to be perceived as an easy target e.g. whether male or female they are physically "robust". It may also be possible to arrange for a Police escort  


  1. In many countries (including America) members of the public carry and often display weapons including firearms.  This is nothing to be alarmed by but be aware of local customs e.g random firing into the air, and hunting areas.
  2. Avoid handling weapons and in particular firearms yourself.  You may harm yourself, you may be perceived as a threat, or mistaken for military personnel or an insurgent.  You may also violate local laws and find your self detained.

Information sources

The College Insurance office

Before travelling overseas you must check your insurance cover details and the College insurer’s disturbed and sanctioned areas list.  If your destination is on this list please contact the College Insurance Manager.  Travel to areas classified as disturbed or sanctioned will require consent from the HoD or HoF and you will need to check with the Insurance Office to ensure that your travel insurance is valid for the location and activity.

RSA/Drum Cussac  go to this web page for security advice and in country alerts in real time (College email address required to register)

Before travelling overseas offsite workers should create an account in order to receive daily bulletins with up to date information on events in their destination country that might affect their travel plans.  Once registered you can also log on to the web pages and carry out specific searches for information relating to your destination.  
Travel to areas classified as extreme risk will require consent from the HoD or Head of Faculty and you will need to check with the Insurance Office to ensure that your travel insurances is valid for the location and activity.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Before travelling overseas you must check the FCO webpages.  Travel to areas where the FCO advise against all or all but essential travel will require additional consent from the Head of Department and you will need to check with the insurance manager that the college travel insurance remains valid for these destinations.

Local contacts

A vital source of information is from trusted local contacts.  Provided that normal communications are operational, they can provide immediate updates on exactly what is happening at specific locations.  They may also be able to provide information on more subtle security cues.  These might include indicators such as, is the local community operating normally e.g. with busy markets and shops and people chatting openly and going about their daily business or are the streets unusually quiet and the people subdued.