Ethics: The Absurd Yet Preferred Approach to Safety Management
- Jan K. Wachter (University of Pennsylvania)
- Document ID
- American Society of Safety Engineers
- Professional Safety
- Publication Date
- June 2011
- Document Type
- Journal Paper
- 50 - 57
- 2011. American Society of Safety Engineers
- 1 in the last 30 days
- 57 since 2007
- Show more detail
Ponder this scenario. The first day that a new general manager (GM) arrives on site to begin work, he calls the safety manager into his office. The safety man-ager is initially honored that the new GM would elect to see him on his first day.
This feeling turns into dismay and despair as the new GM lectures the safety man-ager that all safety laws and regulations are not "black and white" but rather "varying shades of gray." He explains in no uncertain terms that every decision related to the company’s safety function, including regulatory compliance and watching out for the company’s employees, is a cost-benefit analysis.
The GM further enlightens the safety manager, "Before you tell me I have to do something, you provide me with the probability and financial implications of getting caught not implementing these safety requirements or in not providing a safe work-place for employees. Everything is a business decision here. What do you have to say about that?"
The safety manager’s mind is racing as he tries to figure out how to respond. The safety manager quickly decides this must be a test as to whether he has ethical values and is willing to protect the organization and the GM, as well as uphold the ideals of his profession.
He responds that based on his experience and education he believes that most safety requirements are essentially "black and white," but in cases which seem to have gray areas he would be glad to discuss with the GM the various analysis options that can be used to select the next course of action. The safety manager further states that if the new GM continues with this overt policy of knowingly promoting the violation of regulatory requirements and a less-than-safe workplace, he would be ethically forced to report the new GM to the attorney general’s office.
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