When faced with ethical questions in the expanding scope of work, where should safety professionals draw the line?
That was the overall question facing a panel at the American Society of Safety Professionals’ Safety 2019 conference in New Orleans.
Each panelist was asked: What is one of the most important ethical questions today facing safety professionals?
- Nick Nichols, Professor, Department of Occupational Safety and Health, Southeastern Oklahoma State University: As the world moves more and more online, we have to ask ourselves questions about online training. If we gave employees only online training on driving a forklift, would you let them operate one? Is training without hands-on experience an ethical way to train workers? How effective is online training?
- Arthur Schwartz, General Counsel, National Society of Professional Engineers: Questions about emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and autonomous vehicles are very important. We’re creating machines capable of making some types of decisions. Take the trolley car problem but adapt it to an autonomous car. If the car is about to hit a pedestrian, and the option is to swerve onto a sidewalk and possibly cause more of a catastrophe, does the vehicle get to choose?
- Treasa Turnbeaugh, CEO, Board of Certified Safety Professionals: When we’re asked to take on expanding responsibilities at work, do we say, “Yes, I’ll do that”? What if we’re trained to be a safety professional, but we’re asked to take on environmental or security? Our ethics statement at BCSP says practice within your education and experience and not above.
- Brad Giles, Principal, Bradley Giles & Associates (provides safety management counsel): The ethics questions safety pros face aren’t what you might think of as huge. They’re based on everyday experiences and are often due to a lack of resources and time.
Giles says he’s counseled safety pros that, if you’re not comfortable with an ethical situation where you’re working, you have two choices: You stay and face the potential consequences of living with the ethical dilemma, or you find a new employer.