Editor’s note: The case study in this article is fictitious and is intended to highlight ethical issues in the practice of industrial hygiene. Any resemblance to real people or organizations is coincidental. The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of AIHA, The Synergist, the Joint Industrial Hygiene Ethics Education Committee, or its members.

Responses to “Truth to Power”
In the January Synergist, Alan Leibowitz’s article “Truth to Power” examines an OEHS professional’s obligation to communicate unfavorable news to clients or company management. Often, professional judgment is required to determine when an identified risk should be documented, reported, and acted upon. As Leibowitz observes, in some cases, the likelihood of harm suggests that additional action, such as reporting the situation to regulatory authorities, may be necessary.
The article presents some options for OEHS professionals that can reduce potential conflict in these situations. These options include preparing the audience for the possibility of negative outcomes, being honest and direct, proposing a solution to the problem, and reinforcing the need for action.
Case Study Mika worked as the OEHS team lead for ConnectAll, a leading manufacturer of trailer hitches. Many of ConnectAll’s products required plating for a finished look, and the facility had a large area dedicated to its plating operations. The plating area was installed by former building owners and had been in continuous operation since the 1960s. As part of the investigation of a spill in this area, Mika’s team opened the floor to evaluate some buried transfer piping. While the systems ConnectAll currently used were undamaged, the team observed some historic abandoned pipe that appeared corroded with signs of leakage.
When the team asked Mika what follow-up they should do, she told them to stand down and await further guidance. Mika was concerned that if she conducted further investigations, ConnectAll could become responsible for a problem that was clearly created by a previous owner. She was also concerned about putting the company leadership in a difficult position if she reported the problem to them.
Bad news doesn't get better with age.
Reader Responses Thank you, Alan Leibowitz, for a long-overdue article on a very difficult subject.
There are a number of issues at play when you have this conversation. In my opinion, before any discussion you need to consider your position within the corporate structure, including your history and credibility. Maybe you need a friend. Consider first having a conversation with a respected manager or executive, one who will support you.
Many corporations are also very concerned about emails and memos. So, documenting concerns and improper practices would be my last action, not my first. You should also consider the nature of the issues. New buildings and new processes are easier to change than long-established practices.
Don’t stand on a soapbox. Stay humble to avoid the perception that you are using this issue to advance yourself. Explain the risks, the current standards, and possible exposures to the executives, and go easy on the fix. Corporate executives don’t like to be lectured or told what to do. They’ll ask you if they have questions.
Brian Gibney
Early in my career, a mentor told me that bad news doesn’t get better with age. Since then, I have always believed it is better to call out all potential or real issues as soon as you can. You don’t always have to have the solution, but a good team will get you there.
A digital Synergist reader
Mika should assume that the historic piping might contain hexavalent chromium, which is a water-soluble carcinogen. She should take a soil sample and identify any contaminants. Depending upon the analytical results, she should advise upper management of the situation and the possible ramifications.
If there is no contamination, Mika should document this and close the opening.
If the sample is positive for hex chrome, the facility could turn into a Superfund site, disrupting current operations.
Management should be advised of all possibilities and given the responsibility to make the decisions pertaining to reporting requirements.

Jerry Earley, MA, CIH, REHS
The Synergist: “Truth to Power” (January 2024).