One of the on-going obligations I have is to complete the CLE (continuing legal education) necessary to meet my state bar obligations. This includes completing 6 hours of ethics training.

An issue frequently explored in CLE ethics training classes is competence. In particular, the ethical issues associated with lawyers taking on cases in areas that are new to them. For example, the real estate attorney that takes on a toxic tort case. Based on an analysis of case law, dabbling in new areas of practice is one of the common “root causes” of professional malpractice cases.
According to the ethics rules established for lawyers, when you want to move into a new area of practice, you need to “tool-up” rather than attempting to simply handle the matter as an aside to your regular practice. This typically mean either developing the necessary expertise or bringing in the expert talent needed to handle the case appropriately.

The same applies for OH&S professionals.

We often think we can do anything. Perhaps we can – with enough time and training and support.

Unfortunately, these may be in short supply. Time is at a premium today. Opportunities for training have diminished. Bringing in the needed support can be expensive.

Surfing for information on the internet is an inadequate replacement for professional competence. Watching a 10-minute YouTube video on a topic typically doesn’t make one an expert. This is particularly the case when hands-on experience is needed to develop the skills necessary to perform a task in a new area of practice.

Sometimes, rather than attempting to take on work in an unfamiliar area, we simply have to say “no”.  (By the way, this applies equally to both in-house employees and to outside consultants.)
It is our ethical obligation to ensure that the work we are responsible for is done by someone who is competent to do it.

Related Resources:

The American Board of Industrial Hygiene (ABIH) Code of Ethics reads:

Recognize the limitations of one’s professional ability and provide services only when qualified. The certificant/candidate is responsible for determining the limits of his/her own professional abilities based on education, knowledge, skills, practice experience and other relevant considerations.

One of the initiatives of many professional associations is developing information on the “body of knowledge” needed by particular professionals or to conduct specific tasks.

AIHA has developed bodies of knowledge for the following:

  1. Indoor Air Practitioners
  2. Respiratory Protection Program Administrators
  3. Field Use of Direct-Reading Instrumentation

For more information, go to

The American Association of Engineering Societies and the Department of Labor released an engineering competency model in July of 2015 designed to provide a universal professional development tool for employers. This would apply to health and safety engineers. For more information, go to

 For more about the skills and abilities needed by health and safety engineers, check out the American Job Center Network website sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor. (