Responses to “The IH Who Knew Too Much” Readers Weigh In on Client Confidentiality
In the January 2018 issue, the article “The IH Who Knew Too Much” by Jeff Throckmorton and D. Jeff Burton presented two fictional case studies in which industrial hygiene consultants must choose between reporting apparent violations of health and safety regulations and maintaining client confidentiality. Summaries of these case studies are presented below, followed by responses from Synergist readers. To read the case studies in their entirety, go to the January 2018 Synergist. The AIHA/ACGIH ethical principles are available on AIHA's website (PDF).

SCENARIO 1 Wayne, a CIH with ACME Consulting, is acting as the site owner’s representative during a significant asbestos abatement in a large office building. The abatement contractor, which was chosen because its bid was lowest, has a reputation for cutting corners whenever possible; for example, on a previous job, the foreman built only a partial containment. Crew members on the current job have told Wayne that workers do not always tie off or use the scaffolding, and simply climb out on the beams to reach difficult areas. Wayne has reported these concerns to the contractor. His suspicion increases when he sees a plastic milk carton sitting on a horizontal steel beam approximately 10 feet off the ground, away from the scaffolding and apparently used as a step. After discussing the problem with his boss, Wayne calls OSHA to anonymously report his suspicions, turning in his own client. OSHA arrives but is unable to prove the violation. Was Wayne correct to call OSHA once he believed there was a likelihood of serious injury or death? Did his action violate the AIHA/ACGIH ethical principles? What other actions could he have taken? RESPONSES TO SCENARIO 1 Was it unethical to call OSHA? No. Wayne’s job is to serve as oversight on this job. Indeed, it is his responsibility to ensure the contractor is performing their duties safely. However, calling OSHA has not proven to be very effective. Until you catch them in the act, there is not much to report. I would discuss the obvious signs of nonconformance: the milk carton in an unreachable area, the incomplete containment, etc. I would also continue to preach safety to the contractors and remind the workers they have a right to refuse unsafe conditions. Ultimately, change will have to come from within. John L. Parker Wayne acted in an ethical manner. His prime responsibility is to act as the owner’s representative and protect the owner and the owner’s facility. His second priority is to his employer. He reported his concerns prior to notifying OSHA. He is not directly responsible for the safety of the subcontractor’s employees. However, as the owner’s representative, he is responsible for ensuring the contract is followed.  Steve Bump This scenario was a tricky one. The only documented incident was the partial containment. I’m not sure calling OSHA was warranted. Perhaps having ACME’s contract management contact the abatement contractor’s safety manager would have been more effective, possibly getting the abatement foreman’s attention regarding potential safety concerns.  Mary Clerget It was obvious this abatement contractor was not going to change. The IH had already elevated the issue to the top. With imminent danger, the issue had to be addressed in a strong manner. Calling OSHA was appropriate. 
A digital Synergist reader Wayne was correct to call OSHA. That OSHA could not substantiate the allegation does not discredit his actions. Employees are often reluctant to speak to inspectors, whether out of fear of their supervisor/employer or of engaging with government agents. And if the allegation was never true, the only thing lost is the time it took to conduct the inspection, while reminding the employer of the regulatory requirements. Better that than a lack of action leading to a worker losing his life.  John Meehan
Since there was no malice involved and Wayne was concerned for the workers’ safety, I agree with his actions. The best thing to do is to photograph his concerns and document what has happened. OSHA is stretched thin, but if you know that they are going to be in town, it might do to ask that this company stay on OSHA’s radar. Also, Wayne is allowed to speak with the workers informally. Sometimes they can learn their rights and solutions to problems. Next, he should retain documentation against his supervisor in case there is an incident. If the boss is willing, he should discuss modifying the requirements for bids beyond price. Terese Anderson If he was unable to substantiate any of the alleged violations, calling OSHA is unethical. You don’t turn in your client on rumor and disgruntled employee accounts without evidence or seeing it firsthand. A digital Synergist reader
Editor’s note: The scenarios in this article are fictitious and are intended to highlight ethical issues in the practice of industrial hygiene. Any resemblance to real people or organizations is coincidental.