Revisiting Ethics and Confidentiality
Editor’s note: The case studies 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. Readers can use the forms below to submit their reactions. Responses may be published in a future issue.
This month, we present two scenarios to test your ethics IQ. Both scenarios place industrial hygienists in a position of having to decide between protecting their employer and protecting employees with potential regulatory consequences.
JEFF THROCKMORTON, CIH, MSPH, FAIHA, is the senior industrial hygienist for Brigham Young University, a member of the Joint Industrial Hygiene Ethics Education Committee, and a past Board member of both AIHA and ABIH. MARK KATCHEN, CIH, FAIHA, is managing principal at Phylmar Group Inc. in Los Angeles, Calif. He is the current chair of the Joint Industrial Hygiene Ethics Education Committee. Send feedback to The Synergist.
SCENARIO 1: UNION INFLUENCE AND OSHA A large refinery in the midwestern United States is about to start what are anticipated to be contentious contract negotiations with the local operators’ union. One month prior to contract discussions, the union president meticulously went through the facility and subsequently prepared a twenty-page complaint listing many health and safety violations, which he submitted to the local OSHA office. The OSHA area manager found the complaint compelling, assembled two teams of inspectors, and obtained warrants for entry just in case the refinery management did not cooperate. The two teams of OSHA inspectors showed up at the refinery to conduct a "wall-to-wall" inspection based on the union's complaint.  Mary, a CIH and manager of environmental health and safety at the refinery, has been assigned to escort the OSHA inspection teams through the plant. The OSHA teams provided Mary with a copy of the union's complaint. She noted the complaint did not address exposure during the top-loading of various fuel products. Mary has documented many instances of overexposure during loading and has been trying to get management to authorize the installation of local exhaust ventilation in the area. Management has been reluctant to install the ventilation system because of cost and suggested that the employees just use respirators “for now.” Should Mary show the OSHA inspection team the top-loading area even though it was not included in the union's complaint? Doing so may result in additional inspections and possibly citations, but it might also increase the likelihood of getting the local exhaust ventilation approved.
For discussion: What ethical issues should Mary consider as she does her analysis? What is Mary’s primary ethical responsibility?