Ethics and Product Stewardship
The profession of product stewardship is growing. One indication of this growth is the formation of the Product Stewardship Society, an affiliate of AIHA launched in 2012 to provide resources, professional development, and networking opportunities for product stewardship professionals.

When an occupation organizes itself into a profession, its practitioners typically develop a code of ethics. Usually, the code is put in writing and formally adopted through an association or credentialing body. That step has not yet been taken for product stewardship. As a past president of both AIHA and the Product Stewardship Society, I am very familiar with the ethical challenges faced by industrial hygienists and product stewards. This article introduces the topic of ethical principles for product stewards and presents some issues for consideration and comment. A CREDENTIAL AND A CODE The American Board of Industrial Hygiene maintains an enforceable Code of Ethics (PDF) for all ABIH-certified professionals, applicants, and examinees. In addition, AIHA and ACGIH have created a set of Member Ethical Principles (PDF) that complement the ABIH Code of Ethics. Both documents promote ethical professional practices and help members understand their ethical responsibilities. All Certified Industrial Hygienists and AIHA members are made aware of this obligation to follow the ethical principles in the respective codes. No such activity has occurred yet for Society members. Last autumn, the Society announced the development of a product stewardship credential with the Board for Global EHS Credentialing (BGC), an umbrella organization that comprises ABIH and the Institute of Professional Environmental Practice (IPEP). Development of the PS credential is well under way and aligns with ISO 17024, Conformity Assessment—General Requirements for Bodies Operating Certification of Persons, and with credentials maintained by The Council of Engineering & Scientific Specialty Boards. These standards require an enforceable code of ethics for the profession being credentialed. BGC is currently managing certifications for IHs (through ABIH) and environmental professionals (through IPEP). A “unified” code of ethics that will apply to both groups is in development. This code will also apply to professionals applying for the PS credential. 
The work of a product steward is similar to that of a hygienist, and the current AIHA and ABIH codes include some ethical principles that are common to both professions.
THOMAS GRUMBLES, CIH, now retired, is the former manager of Occupational Health for Sasol North America and a past president of AIHA and the Product Stewardship Society. Send feedback to The Synergist.

One question under discussion is whether the existing ABIH Code of Ethics and AIHA/ACGIH Member Ethical Principles can be applied to product stewards simply by modifying references to “industrial hygienist.” The work of a product steward is similar to that of a hygienist in many ways, and the current AIHA and ABIH codes include some ethical principles that are common to both professions:
  • Comply with laws, regulations, policies, and ethical standards governing professional practice.
  • Deliver competent services with objective and independent professional judgment.
  • Recognize the limitations of one’s professional ability and provide services only when qualified.
  • Avoid conduct that could cause a conflict of interest with a client, employer, employee, or the public.
The Society has not yet developed a stance on the application of ethical guidelines for its members or as a part of the credential being developed, although such discussions have begun. These discussions suggest that product stewards may face scenarios such as the following:
  • Over-reliance on authoring software for safety data sheets vs. professional judgment in hazard warnings, particularly when the software does not include hazard data for all of the chemical substances on the market and does not reflect the toxicological practice of “read across.”
  • Participation in marketing claims such as “safe,” “green,” or “free from a particular agent.”
  • Unsupported claims of minimal exposure potential to users of products.
FOR DISCUSSION If references to “industrial hygienist” were modified, could the AIHA/ACGIH Member Ethical Principles and ABIH Code of Ethics apply to the product stewardship profession? What activities of product stewards can present ethical dilemmas? Please share your responses to these questions by emailing The Synergist. Your responses may be printed in a future issue.

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