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.
Corporate Management and Ethical Commitment to Occupational Health and Safety