HAMID ARABZADEH, FAIHA, CIH, CSP, is principal with HRA Environmental Consultants Inc. in Irvine, Calif. He can be reached at (214) 218-8282 or

The Ethical Scale
Over my 30-year career practicing industrial hygiene, I have spoken with and informally interviewed many of the leaders of our profession. The common threads in their experiences include strong academic backgrounds, technical competencies of the highest order, and, above all, commitment to ethical conduct, to betterment of the workplace and the protection of fellow human beings. This background suggests that our profession encourages industrial hygienists to be thoughtful about and committed to personal and professional ethics. THE FOUR TYPES OF BUSINESS LEADERS The occupational and environmental safety and health ethics of company owners and executive management are important in shaping the world in which EHS professionals work. Business owners and executives decide whether EHS professionals even have an opportunity to work in a given organization. It is well established that a “successful” EHS program in the workplace requires “buy-in” from executives or ownership. This decision on buy-in can be framed in ethical terms. Business leaders may be classified into four types:
Decision makers who dislike EHS programs. For this group, EHS programs aren’t integral parts of the company’s mission but simply a cost center. Employees, in their view, aren’t productive partners in the business but interchangeable cogs to be replaced when they break or wear out, who misuse injuries and workers’ compensation. The employers in this group are the ones for whom OSHA was created. They complain to legislators that OSHA is killing their business. They might not fully report injuries on the OSHA log, and they fight OSHA tooth and nail over every violation, which costs taxpayers in all the administrative churning required to adjudicate the issues. They place a disproportional emphasis on profit. Leaders who embrace EHS programs for employee-centric reasons. These employers focus only on the business imperative that their employees might be actively at risk. They say they are doing the right thing, which they believe is the minimum compliance possible to avoid being in violation. They don’t consider the occupational risks to employees worth assessing and fixing unless required by law. They might be concerned about the risk of adjudicating a violation rather than addressing safety risks to workers. One reason this approach is problematic is that skirting the line of minimum compliance causes instances where performance drops below that line into noncompliance, placing the safety of workers at risk. Depending on circumstances, this approach might have a high risk of an accident because of the random fluctuations in compliance. These employers cross ethical boundaries. Either they willfully do not want to know or do not understand that pursuing minimal compliance is likely to mean that parts of the operation will fall into noncompliance and below the line of acceptable risk. Leaders who “manage by catastrophe.” These decision makers undergo a shift in ethical thinking because of high-consequence events. These are the people who install the burglar alarm the day after the robbery. Rarely, an OSHA citation and fine may be sufficient to change the ethical basis for decisions about the safety and welfare of the people working in the organization. Often, the event is a firsthand exposure to a tragic fatality or a life-altering injury. These decision makers will respond by making changes to “ensure this never happens again on my watch” or to start a “safety crusade.” Of course, it’s better that these leaders develop an appreciation at some point for the safety and health of everyone who could be affected by the business’ activities. Some business leaders don’t change their perspective after a high consequence event. They pay the fine as a cost of doing business and go back to what they were doing before the incident. On the other hand, many key decision makers commit to change and stay with it for the rest of their careers. For these leaders, profit is not the sole driving force in business. They commit to keeping people out of harm’s way.
We need to identify where on the ethical scale the decision makers are and match our response to that scale.
Executives who proactively support EHS. These are the decision makers who “get it.” Instead of focusing on minimal baseline compliance, they rely on EHS management to minimize the safety and health risks to the people in the organization. They do so for many reasons. In general, they think of their employees as people, not cogs in the profit machine. They also feel a responsibility for the safety of “their people.” They don’t ask if the situation is in compliance but rather if it is safe. They understand the positive business outcome when employees trust that the company sees them as people and engages with the effort to find and reduce risks as much as possible. These leaders seek return on investment in safety, but not based on whether the cost of mitigating a risk is paid for by the reduced cost of injury incidents. Their return on investment assumes the risk will be reduced whether it’s a compliance issue or not, and the goal of their analysis is to determine the most cost effective way to mitigate the safety and health risk. Companies with this kind of ethical leadership also tend to do very well in their financial performance. These leaders tend to produce companies that are considered world-class in EHS and are interested in sharing best practices because safety is not proprietary and lives are at stake. They work with EHS professionals who use metrics beyond counting the injuries, instead measuring the benefits of an engaged work force that makes fewer mistakes, is more efficient, and has a culture that blends the ethics of trust and communication into a highly successful financial model. They also know that the employees, their families, and the communities in which they operate share in the belief that the organization has the kind of ethics that can be considered transparent and positive for society. INSPIRING ETHICAL CHANGE Over time, EHS professionals have been working to perfect a formula that inspires ethical change in decision makers. As a practical matter, we need to identify where on the ethical scale the decision makers are and match our response to that scale. But as is typical with questions involving ethics, there is no one right answer, no single formula that will move every leader up the scale. For EHS professionals, success will depend on their ability to assess the ethical scales of key leaders and understand how to present the ethical boundaries each decision effects. The ethical values of the EHS profession require us to try, on an ongoing basis, to change the perspective of decision makers to enhance safety. We have no other choice.

Corporate Management and Ethical Commitment to Occupational Health and Safety