MANAGING BEST PRACTICES: Who's minding the profession?
There are five problems regarding professional EHS ethics:
1) Lack of enforced ethics is the greatest hurdle to EHS becoming a profession. The most distinguishing feature between a profession and an occupation is that a profession has a code of ethics enforced by the professional group. Although most EHS membership groups have established a code of ethics, enforcement is non-existent or minimal.
The American Academy of Industrial Hygiene established a code of ethics in 1968. But there are no enforcement procedures for IH ethics at this time.
Certified Safety Professionals must now agree to abide by a code of ethics when they renew their CSP credential. But the CSP code of ethics emphasizes self-constraint. Note this sentence from the code: â€œAvoid deceptive acts which falsify or misrepresent their academic or professional qualifications.â€ Similar Professional Engineersâ€™ ethics language reads: â€œEngineers shall not falsify or permit misrepresentation of their, or their associatesâ€™, academic or professional qualifications.â€
The National Society of Professional Engineersâ€™ Board of Ethical Review (BER) goes on to say that a PE â€œwho learns of an (academic) misrepresentation of this nature committed by another engineer cannot stand silent and do nothing.â€
Given the ethics inquiry, â€œIs it unethical for a member to promote himself or herself using a degree from a diploma mill?â€ the BER says â€œyes,â€ while the Board of Certified Safety Professionals (BCSP) says â€œno.â€
2) Exactly what acts are unethical in the EHS field? How can we constrain ourselves when itâ€™s not clear what is right or wrong? If differences on EHS ethics exist among various member groups, how do we know which code of ethics to follow?
3) Where do you go to report an unethical act suspected by a colleague? American Industrial Hygiene Association President Tom Grumbles, for instance, acknowledges that some AIHA members are dismayed that AIHA does not have a process to enforce its code of ethics.
4) Budgets and membership priorities hamper ethics enforcement. EHS groups claim that limited resources prevent them from pursuing alleged ethics violations among members. Plus, they claim ethics education and enforcement is a low priority among members.
5) There appears to be minimal self-constraint on the limits of an EHS proâ€™s areas of competence. Standards and recommendations state that issues surrounding OSHA Permissible Exposure Limits and American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienistsâ€™ Threshold Limit Values are only to be addressed by persons with industrial hygiene training. But who decides how much and what type of training is ethical or not ethical?
What to doEstablished professions such as law, medicine, and engineering do not rely simply on self-constraint in matters of ethics. Lawyers have an obligation to report to appropriate authorities unethical acts committed by other lawyers. The American Medical Association Code of Medical Ethics (2003) requires a MD to â€œreport suspected unethical or unprofessional conduct by a colleague to the appropriate peer review body.â€
The solution to the ethics problem begins with each EHS pro:
The issue of EHS ethics is complex, involving many â€œstakeholders.â€ Consensus-building will take years. In the meantime, there are steps you can take today to help the professionâ€™s credibility and stature.