Ethics and Communication of Risk

This month, we present two scenarios to test your ethics IQ. Both scenarios place industrial hygienists in a position of having to decide whether and to what extent they are responsible for communicating risk in the given circumstances.

Aaliyah is a CIH and has been working as the sole EHS practitioner at Bay Fasteners for the past eight years. While she enjoys the company and her work, competition from imports has led to recent layoffs, and everyone is a bit on edge. 
Management recently decided to expand their marketing efforts into Europe, focusing on their standard aircraft panel assemblies. In the U.S., each of those assemblies is shipped with a touchup kit that contains small quantities of various paints and coatings to perform cosmetic repair of various external parts that are prone to damage in shipping. While most of the equipment produced by Bay Fasteners would be considered articles, additional attention must be paid to liquids or other materials not part of the finished products. Most regulations focus on exposure potential. Materials like the paints and their associated solvents pose the greatest potential for release. This potential is what is generally covered by regulation. Aaliyah’s responsibilities include a combination of product stewardship and industrial hygiene assessment of product safety data sheets (SDSs). She and the product development team have a long history of compliance assessment for their U.S. customers. They have eliminated all ingredients that would require strict control under U.S. regulation. While Aaliyah has never worked in the EU, she is aware that there are different requirements under REACH and other regulations. While her initial casual review does not identify any specific concerns, she recommends to her boss, the head of security, that they retain a consultant to do a complete review of ingredients before shipping products overseas. While he compliments her on the presentation, he declines to retain outside assistance, expressing that they have full confidence in her review and that given their compliance with U.S. regulations there is little to be concerned about.  Even though she appreciates the vote of confidence, Aaliyah knows that she does not have the expertise required to make the assessment. She is also aware that under EU regulatory policies any violation could result in shipments being delayed or stopped if proper analysis has not been conducted. She is reluctant to speak up because of the employment risk she feels due to the recent layoffs, feeling that if she communicates the limitations of her technical skillset, she might be thought unfit for her job.  For discussion: What should Aaliyah do? How should she evaluate the risk in this situation? How should she protect herself from future consequences related to this decision? What is her responsibility to inform her employer of her professional limitations? Should Aaliyah allow her boss to have the final word on this decision? Consider possible obligations to the organization and potential users of the product in the EU Is the risk of the shipment not passing EU standards low enough that she is willing to gamble on not retaining a consultant? What ethical issues should Aaliyah consider as she does her analysis? What is Aaliyah’s primary ethical responsibility? 
ALAN LEIBOWITZ, CIH, CSP, FAIHA, is the president of EHS Systems Solutions LLC, chair of the Joint Industrial Hygiene Ethics Education Committee, current ABIH vice chair, and a past Board member of AIHA. 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. Please send your responses to Responses may be printed in a future issue as space permits.
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Linus has had a long and successful career as a consulting industrial hygienist in his own firm, Protektus LLC. A new client has asked him to sample exposures to intermediaries formed during a process that uses isocyanates. They have made some recent changes in the suppliers of the feedstocks and have been getting some complaints of sore throats and coughing from the line workers.  When Linus arrives at the plant, he and the plant HR director let the workers know that he is there to conduct area and personal air sampling to investigate their concerns. When he approaches a group of employees to attach sampling devices, they inform him that this is the first day in a week that the ventilation has been on at full speed and that the working environment seems much less irritating. Linus asks his plant contacts if the ventilation has been recently repaired and they inform him that on very warm days the exhaust systems are turned down to save on air conditioning costs.  When Linus receives the laboratory analysis of his samples, none of them exceed regulatory or recommended limits, but some are quite close. While he has collected enough samples to be confident that no hazardous exposures exist under the conditions at the time of his visit, he is concerned that if any reduction in ventilation takes place, overexposure is likely to occur.  Linus prepares a draft report including his concern regarding exposure risk at lower ventilation rates. His client asks him to remove that element of the report, reminding him that they had retained him to provide information only regarding conditions at the time of his visit. To complicate matters, one of the workers he sampled calls him at his office a few weeks later and asks for a copy of the results.  For discussion: What should Linus do? What are his obligations to his client and their employees, particularly where their interests do not align? Does Linus have an obligation to go beyond what he had provided in his draft report? Could Linus have anticipated this issue and taken steps at the contracting stage to avoid the potential ethical conundrum? What ethical issues should Linus consider as he does his analysis? What is Linus’ primary ethical responsibility?
Ethical Principles The new BGC Code of Ethics (PDF) becomes effective for CIHs on July 1, 2020. Most of the new code mirrors the existing ABIH version. One new clause is explored in this month’s case studies. It requires practitioners to communicate all potential consequences, as far as they are aware, which could occur if their advice is disregarded. This is most often done by citing applicable regulations or requirements when recommendations are made. This requirement is based only on information available at the time reports or other communications are prepared. There is no requirement to track changes made as a result of initial communications unless that is an ongoing part of the certificant's assigned responsibilities.  Consider the following excerpt from the BGC ethical principles when discussing the scenarios presented in this article: II. Responsibilities to clients, employers, employees, and the public.
A. Education, experience, competency, and performance of professional services. A certificant/candidate must:
2. Recognize the limitations of one’s professional ability and provide services only when qualified. The certificant/candidate is responsible for determining the limits of his/her own professional abilities based on education, knowledge, skills, practical experience, and other relevant considerations.
8. Communicate clearly, to clients or employers, the potential consequences if professional decisions or judgments are overruled or disregarded.

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