Newswise — INDIANA, Pa. – Can the “Golden Rule” be used as the basis for developing and implementing safety programs in the workplace without negatively affecting the bottom line? Yes, but it is up to safety professionals to have the moral courage to embrace ethical, not just regulatory, standards, says Indiana University of Pennsylvania Safety Sciences professor Dr. Jan Wachter.

Many aspects of the traditional approaches to safety management could be viewed as less than ethical, but safety programs based on the more ethical basis of doing the right thing is a better and sustaining basis for managing safety programs in the long run, Wachter writes in “Ethics – the Absurd Yet Preferred Approach to Safety Management,” published in the June 2011 issue of Professional Safety.

Laws and regulations largely inform individuals what they cannot do, but ethics instruct individuals and organization as to what they should do. Ethics are about doing the right thing, not about not doing the wrong thing, he explains.

Wachter supports a “safety management systems approach” in the workplace, that is, recognizing the unsafe acts, unsafe conditions and accidents are all symptoms of problems in the organizational management system. In this philosophy, senior management is ultimately responsible for building an ethical system that can effectively analyze and control workplace hazards. This means that safety is no longer a “sunk cost,” but an integral function of doing business, just like quality.

But why would management adopt this approach, especially in light of challenging economic times?

“Perhaps the greatest economic reason to support an ethics-based approach to safety management within a capitalistic system is that prosperity generates an environment where continuing improvement and reduced risk are affordable,” Wachter says.

The bottom line: in order to catalyze management’s use of an ethical safety management systems approach, safety professionals need to promote a more ethical approach to managing their own profession. This strategy requires moral courage, conviction and professional unity, including a bottom-up approach at their worksites and through professional organizations, and understanding the need to look out for workers and the public despite culture, pressure and misdirection from management and peers.

In addition to his teaching responsibilities at IUP, Wachter is currently engaged in a research project about worker engagement in the safety process as a tool for human-error reduction, funded by a $99,000 grant from the Alcoa Foundation.

Wachter has a bachelor’s degree in biology, master’s degree in environmental health, Master of Business Administration and a doctoral degree in hygiene from the University of Pittsburgh. In addition, he has a Master of Divinity degree from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and a Master of Applied Theology from Wheeling Jesuit University. Prior to his academic career, he was employed by Fortune 100 companies and the federal government as an environmental safety and health administrator and researcher. His safety science accreditations include Certified Safety Professional, Certified Industrial Hygienist, Certified Hazardous Materials Manager, Certified Quality Engineer, and Certified Reliability Engineer.

Register for reporter access to contact details

Professoinal Safety (June 2011)