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Taking the Ethical Path

Nov. 26, 2012
What EHS professionals choose to do (or not do) can dramatically impact personal and organizational liability. Here’s why professional ethics matter.
Earlier this month, a federal jury convicted Walter Cardin, a safety professional at Shaw Group, of eight counts of fraud for allegedly falsifying safety records. Cardin faces up to 10 years in prison and up to a million dollar fine for each count. (See “Former Shaw Group Safety Manager Convicted of Fraud” and “La. Man Convicted In TVA Contractor Fraud” for details.)

This event sounds like a scare tactic strategically brought up during a training session by an instructor looking to make a point. It sounds unbelievable, too unrealistic and over the top. This simply does not happen in real life, right? Wrong!

Think Ahead

The verdict against this safety manager serves as a reminder that what we, as EHS professionals, choose to do (or not do) can significantly increase or decrease personal and organizational liability. It drives home the point that vigilance in doing the right thing, every time and under every circumstance, is not a choice of action, but rather a choice of consequences in an arena full of ethical dilemmas.

An EHS professional's recommendations often add up to more than mere recommendations. Unfortunately, external drivers (pressure to keep injury rates down, for example) can force some of these recommendations into tin cans that are opened way too late. Risky new norms (not reporting injuries) are established when this happens, and your future, your family’s future and that of the organization starts down a road that leads to an all-too familiar end.

To avoid everything from placing workers at risk to being found guilty of fraud, it’s best to think globally beyond your site and your program when reporting and recommending solutions. Think of the big picture regardless of any pressures, whether they are actual, implied, potential or otherwise perceived. When evaluating your decisions, consider how they will read in the headlines tomorrow and anticipate the possible consequences for all involved, directly and indirectly. Think ahead. Think way ahead.

Asking the Right Question

Perhaps “What should I do?” (or “What should I not do?”) is not the best question to ask. The correct question to ask may be: “Is this the right thing to do, and if so, can I sell it?” The answer will inherently define your future and that of your organization.

Follow your organization’s progressive reporting protocol until you are satisfied that your concern is addressed. Should an occasion arise when the pressures of business begin to taint your best judgment, remember that it is best to follow the path you know is right: the ethical path.

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