Easy to say, often hard to do.
It is even difficult to know what “the truth” is in some cases.
Most of us mean to tell the truth but we may not always accomplish this. We are also often unsure whether the information we receive from others is “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.” The truth often seems uncertain and subjective.
Failure to tell the truth can be linked to the following – entrenched opinions, supposition based on our experiences and conjecture about future outcomes.
In a world of sound-bite news, opinions often masquerade as truth. This seems to be particularly prevalent during political campaigns. Opinions are reported as “the truth” even though they are simply one person’s or one group’s view of reality. This can lead to completely opposite statements being presented as “true.” Since they are opinions, they are “true” – at least for those that share the same view.
Just as in politics, OH&S professionals often have strong opinions about certain OH&S topics.
These opinions are often based on an individual’s personal experiences and beliefs. As in politics, these opinions are often presented as truths. Since opinions are firmly believed to be "the truth," different views on the topic in question will not even be considered.
Such “truths” can be perpetuated for years without being challenged – or even critically examined. One example is support for Henrich’s Triangle. Another is views about the appropriate use of "hierarchy of controls."
The next enemy of the truth is supposition, the drawing of conclusions based on a hypothesis. Supposition becomes a problem when the hypothesis used is based on assumptions rather than facts.
A significant issue with many hypotheses is treating correlation as causation. In other words, assuming that if events are related in time, then one event must have caused the other to occur.
In the industrial hygiene field, there is a common belief that if a worker has a certain type of health condition, then the cause must have been an occupational exposure. In some instances, this may be true. In other instances, it may not be.
The third enemy of the truth is conjecture, forming an opinion based on incomplete information. This is particularly prevalent when individuals make projections about what may happen in the future. Risks are presented as certain outcomes rather than probable events. Often the extent of the uncertainty associated with a particular outcome is not even reported. Conjecture is reported as fact. Since the future has not yet arrived, no one can know with certainty what will happen. There are only some outcomes that are more likely than others.
One of the skills OH&S professionals need to develop is to recognize when information being presented to them as ‘the truth” is actually an opinion, supposition or conjecture. We also need to develop the skills necessary to be aware when our own “truth” is not necessarily the only or the complete truth.
In my December 2015 newsletter, I discussed safety myths. One of these is Heinrich’s Triangle. Introduced in the 1930s, it postulates a direct relationship between no-injury accidents and major injuries. Despite being considered a “safety truth” for more than 80 years, there is insufficient evidence that supports the proposition that reducing accident frequency will reduce severe injuries. For an in-depth review of this topic, check out Reviewing Heinrich, Dislodging Two Myths from the Practice of Safety by Fred Manuele.
For an interesting discussion of common half-truths we accept, check out 12 Half-Truths We Live With. Appropriate for this year, one half-truth is that a year has 365 days. Not always. This year, it has 366.
The website www.ohsethics.com provides additional information about the Ethics for the OH&S Professional training course offered by ENLAR Compliance Services in partnership with the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA).
ENLAR specializes in developing and offering resources and coaching to help organizations establish and maintain effective environmental and OH&S management systems. For more details about ENLAR's services, go to www.enlar.com.