As occupational health & safety (OHS) professionals, we can often be faced with situations requiring ethical decision making – which is not always straightforward and easy.
Ethics can be interpreted in many ways and can represent morality, social responsibility, rules, beliefs, doing what’s right, following company principles, or humanity. Despite the meaning of ethics being subjective, the focus should always be to follow principles, be responsible and distinguish right from wrong. No matter where OHS professionals are located on the global scale, at times ethical considerations have to be included in decision making.
As OHS professionals, there is a code of ethics attached to the responsibilities to the job and the knowledge acquired. This code may differ based on the local OHS organization, geographical location, or level of expertise. However, even though the code may be different among the multiple OHS groups, the core values are the same – which is to separate personal and professional judgement, focus on making informed decisions, awareness of consent, open communication and transparency.
Following ethical practices is not only important for OHS professionals to know, but it is also useful in educating clients and workers of the values an OHS professional works by, and what tasks-if any- are prohibited by the ethical code. As described by the British Occupational Hygiene Society (BOHS), the Code of Ethics acts as the criteria by which an OHS professional must abide by, and it also helps others in identifying if the OHS professional is conducting their business in ” an appropriate manner“. Another great example of Code of Ethics is that of the International Occupational Hygiene Association (IOHA) which states the the responsibility of an OHS professional is not only to the profession but it is also to the employers, the environment, the community, the worker, the public and also towards themselves.
Some simple steps to remember when considering ethics in OHS profession:
- Follow the governmental requirements, laws, guidelines, as well as company principles and policies when conducting OHS related tasks and making decisions.
- Be transparent in communicating data, findings, recommendations to the respective management.
- Follow the code of ethics of the relevant professional association and/or accreditation body and report any incident
- Detach personal judgement, thoughts and ideas from professional setting as much as possible.
- Support and follow OHS values and principles
- Know what you know and know what you do not know.