Comparing Codes of Ethics
Last November, the American Public Health Association updated its code of ethics. This code is of interest to occupational health and safety professionals because many of us work in public health entities, including governmental, academic, and healthcare organizations; we should be familiar with the code because we are part of the larger, interdisciplinary field of public health. More importantly, the APHA code provides a detailed framework for decision-making that can help us weigh options when we face ethical dilemmas.

The focus of the APHA code on service to society is timely given the COVID-19 pandemic. Ethical dilemmas are occurring nearly every day as scarce resources are rationed, healthcare workers go into harm’s way, and populations are quarantined. These actions constrict the civil rights and liberties of individuals, disrupt the global economy, and obstruct the primary goal of public health, which is to allow people to flourish. FOCUS ON VALUES There are some key differences between the APHA code and the Board for Global EHS Credentialing code, which applies to industrial hygienists. While both public health and OHS protect the public, the APHA code also serves societies and the ecosystem. The main difference is that the BGC code of ethics is connected to the Certified Industrial Hygienist certification and includes an enforcement mechanism. Both codes specify standards and obligations. As explained in its introduction, the APHA code applies to “both public health practitioners and institutions” and “is intended to guide individual and collective decision making.” However, APHA states that its code is not intended to be used in a disciplinary way. Instead, the code serves as a “promise to society,” stating, “When people become professionals, they take on a second set of special responsibilities and obligations concerning how and for what ends their professional knowledge and authority should be used.”  Further, the APHA code encompasses values that overlap with, and extend beyond, those of the industrial hygiene profession. In addition to professionalism, trust, health, and safety, the APHA code embraces justice and equity; interdependence and solidarity; human rights and civil liberties; and inclusivity and engagement. These values reflect the broader mission of public health, which is influenced by governmental, academic, healthcare, and non-governmental organizations.  The APHA code identifies four components of decision-making: determining the public health goals of a proposed action; identifying the ethically relevant facts and uncertainties; analyzing the meaning and implications of the action for the health and rights of affected individuals and communities; and analyzing how the proposed action fits with core public health values. In addition, the code lists eight considerations for public health interventions and policies: permissibility; respect; reciprocity; effectiveness; responsible use of scarce resources; proportionality; accountability and transparency; and public participation. OVERLAPPING PROFESSIONS There is considerable overlap between public health and industrial hygiene in investigating health problems; informing and educating; maintaining competency; and evaluating and continuously improving processes, programs, and interventions. Public health delves deeper into the population, community, and social components of these domains. Nonetheless, in each of these areas industrial hygiene may contribute to the evidence-based practice of public health. The complexity of the APHA code reflects the multidisciplinary nature of public health and provides a broad scope of standards for performance of duties. Against the backdrop of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, the actions taken by U.S. public health officials reflect the values, standards, and obligations in their code of ethics, even in the midst of a dynamic global event. 
CELIA A. BOOTH, CIH, CSP, MA, is a consultant with Booth McCaffery LLC in Saint Augustine, Florida. JOY ERDMAN, CIH, CSP, MA, is a consultant with Joy Solutions, LLC in Falls Church, Virginia. Send feedback to The Synergist.

American Journal of Public Health: “Public Health Code of Ethics: Deliberative Decision-Making and Reflective Practice” (April 2020). American Public Health Association: Public Health Code of Ethics. American Public Health Association: Principles of the Ethical Practice of Public Health. Board for Global EHS Credentialing: Code of Ethics (PDF, November 2019).