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MANAGING BEST PRACTICES: "I know nothing" doesn't cut it

May 10, 2010
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Sergeant Shultz of Hogan’s Heroes faced his ethical dilemma of being loyal to both the German military and the prisoners he supervised by taking the position, “I know nothing.” Had Sergeant Shultz been a CIH, his feigned ignorance would have been unethical.

Beginning January 2010, if you want to become a Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH) or maintain your CIH you must have ethics training. Training is one of the actions required by the American Board of Industrial Hygiene (ABIH) to help enforce ethics.

Section I.A.5 the ABIH Code of Ethics requires that CIHs “report apparent violations of the ethics code by certificants and candidates upon a reasonable and clear factual basis.”

Warning to CIHs

If you are a CIH who seeks to avoid ethical dilemmas, you many want to act like Sergeant Shultz and stop reading this article now. It includes ethics training that may force you to come off the sideline and participate in ethics.

Educational credentials

Section II.A.5 of the ABIH code of ethics requires a CIH to “provide truthful and accurate representations concerning education.” This ethics position is similar to the Standard 5 in Board of Certified Safety Professionals (BCSP) Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct that requires CSPs to “Avoid deceptive acts that falsify or misrepresent their academic or professional qualifications.” BCSP’s interpretation of this ethics position, effective January 1, 2007, is found at http://www.bcsp.org/pdf/ethics.pdf. In short, it is unethical for a CSP to use a degree from a “diploma mill or similar unacceptable institution” as an academic credential. ABIH may apply the same rationale.

Unacceptable institutions

Beginning in the mid-1990s states began to pass laws to ban or restrict diploma mills and use of the degrees from these institutions within their borders. States such as Michigan, Oregon and Texas maintain lists of unacceptable academic institutions. These lists are found at:
  • http://www.michigan.gov/documents/ Non-accreditedSchools_78090_7.pdf
  • http://www.osac.state.or.us/oda/unaccredited.aspx
  • http://www.thecb.state.tx.us/apps/ ConsumerInfo/NoTX.cfm
Institutions from these lists such as Columbia State University, Kensington University, Kennedy-Western University a.k.a. Warren National University, and Western States University for Professional Studies — all of which have now closed shop — are known to have marketed their degree service to EHS pros.

Background searches

The Internet is now used to conduct background searches for job candidates. It may also be used to match people who have unacceptable academic degrees. For example, a search for <”kennedy Western University” “Certified Industrial Hygienist”> may match a CIH to an unacceptable institution.

If the search finds a CIH with a Ph.D. in safety engineering from Kennedy-Western, has this CIH committed an unethical act if he resides in New York; which does not have state law that prohibits this conduct? If a CIH is found with a Ph.D. from Kennedy-Western but resides in New Jersey with a law (http://www.state. nj.us/highereducation/degreelaws.htm) that prohibits use of “fraudulent academic degrees,” is an ethics violation clear-cut (such as breaking the law)? What happens when these “doctors” cross state or international borders (in other words, do ethics change by location?)

How to treat ethical dilemmas

In addition to the BCSP, the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) Board of Ethical Review (BER) (http://www.nspe.org/ Ethics/BoardofEthicalReview/ index.html) has served as a guide on ethical dilemmas for P.E.s since 1954. It provides interpretation of this type of ethics issue. See NPSE’s BER Case Review 91-9 “Misrepresentation of Education” at http://www. nspe.org/resources/pdfs/Ethics/EthicsResources/ EthicsCaseSearch/1991/BER91-9.pdf for an example.

Loyalty to the process/credential

The hard reality of ethics is that loyalty to the process must trump loyalty to an individual. Individuals may wither and disappear over time but professional credentials such as the P.E. and CIH gather strength as the years go on — provided the credential’s reputation and public trust are maintained through enforcement of ethics. The reality of ethics often means to actually take a tough action.

OSHA trainer fraud hotline

All EHS pros have a stake in ethics, particularly when issues of education and training are involved. In March 2010, OSHA updated its Outreach Trainer Watch List (http://www.osha.gov/dte/outreach/construction_generalindustry/ watchlist.html). This list identifies individuals with very poor ethics with regard to OSHA 10- and 30-hour classes. OSHA does not want its courses to be operated like a diploma mill. OSHA asks the public (such as EHS pros) to call a new outreach fraud hotline at 847-297-4810 to file complaints.

Even though you may not have a CIH, CSP, P.E. or other professional credential, you still are an EHS pro who must practice ethics. If you “know something” you should act to protect the ethics process and not an individual.

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