Chapter 38.3 Ethics and Professional Practice

Chapter 38.3 Ethics and Professional Practice


Ethical decision-making is integral to the role and practice of occupational health and safety (OHS) professionals. This chapter focuses on the OHS professional as an ‘ethical professional’ and foregrounds the complexity of ethics in OHS professional practice. It considers ethics in the context of the legal obligations of the OHS professional, introduces the concept of the OHS professional as ‘moral agent,’ and discusses ethical theory from a moral philosophy perspective as a basis for examining the role of formal codes of ethics and particular ethical challenges for OHS professionals. This is followed by discussion of individual and organisational ethical capability and practical approaches to ethical OHS decision-making, including consideration of ‘speaking up’ when the need arises. Appendices provide a summary of ethical theories and a compilation of OHS scenarios to prompt professional discourse.


Keywords: ethics, morality, code of ethics, ethical decision-making, professional behaviour, safety 


First year of publication: 2019
Current Version: 2019

Chapter 38.3: Ethics and Professional Practice

Table of contents

1 Introduction
2 Know yourself
3 Legal obligations of OHS professionals
4 The OHS professional as a ‘moral agent’
5 Ethical theory and ethical decision-making
5.1 Moral philosophy
5.2 Moral awareness and moral intensity
5.3 Obstacles to ethical decision-making
5.4 Impact of organisational governance, culture and leadership on ethical decision-making
5.5 Language and ethical decision-making
6 Codes of ethics
7 Ethical challenges for the OHS professional
7.1 Technical competence/capability
7.2 Reconciling risk
7.3 Managing conflicts
7.4 Managing information
7.5 Operating as a consultant
8 Ethical capability
8.1 Individual ethical capability
8.2 Organisational ethical capability
9 Ethics in practice
9.1 An ethical decision-making process
9.2 Speaking up
10 Summary
Appendix 1: Ethical theory explained
A1.1 Consequence-based theory
A1.2 Rights-and duty-based theories
A1.3 Virtue ethics
A1.4 Natural law and natural rights
Appendix 2: OHS scenarios as discussion starters for professional discourse

This chapter was developed as a joint project between the Australian Institute of Health and Safety (AIHS) and the Board of Canadian Registered Safety Professionals (BCRSP)

Technical advisors

Dr Eva Tsahuridu, Associate Professor and Industry Fellow, School of Accounting, RMIT University, Melbourne, Victoria.

Dr Peter Strahlendorf, Associate Professor, School of Occupational and Public Health, Ryerson University, Toronto, Ontario.

Dr Matthew Davies, Lecturer, School of Public Health, Curtin University, Western Australia.

Jackie Ellis, Exposure Prevention Specialist, Fraser Health Authority, British Columbia.

Dr David Provan, Research Fellow, Griffith University, Queensland; Managing Director, Forge Works.

Harry Stewart, Director, Workplace Safety and Prevention Services, Ontario.

Nicola Wright, Executive Director, Board of Canadian Registered Safety Professionals; Vice President, Fletcher Wright Associates Inc., Mississauga, Ontario.

Pam Pryor, Manager, OHS Body of Knowledge Development, Australian Institute of Health & Safety, Melbourne, Victoria.

Learning Outcomes: Ethics and Professional Practice

The OHS Body of Knowledge takes a conceptual approach which enables it to be applied in different contexts and frameworks. To optimise its value for education and professional development learning outcomes have been developed for each technical chapter in the Body of Knowledge.

The learning outcomes as described give an indication of what should be the capabilities of a new graduate OHS professional in the workplace. It is up to those developing OHS education programs, OHS professionals planning their CPD or recruiters or employers selecting or developing people for the OHS function to consider the required breadth vs. depth


Download information about the learning outcomes

Download learning outcomes for this chapter

AIHS Ethics Resource Package - Ethical Conversations


Webinar: Ethics and OHS Education
Date: 15th July 2020
Presenter: American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP) OSH Academics and Researchers Round Table
Source: https://youtube/gdQv9cKXWNY

AIHS Webinar: WHS and legal professional privilege: Lets get back to basics
Legal professional privilege is not always well understood in the context of health and safety and its appropriate use in this context has often been hotly debated. Many believe that there is no space for the concept or application of legal professional privilege when an incident occurs for fear that it will hinder efforts on important sharing of information for lessons learnt, others believe that the best legal strategy is to pull up the drawbridge and claim privilege over everything. Neither approach represents a nuanced strategy that is required to best protect organisations in these circumstances. There is also often the sense that legal professional privilege is a magic wand that can be waved over anything at any time (spoiler: it can’t be). This webinar busts some on legal professional privilege and provides some practical tips and traps for OHS professionals.
Date: 2021
Presenter: Alena Titterton

AIHS Webinar: What makes a good expert witness: Tips and traps
Expert opinion can be extraordinarily useful in OHS prosecutions, coronial inquests, inquiries, civil claims, and class actions as well as in workers compensation matters. This webinar outlines the role of an expert witness, the requirements established by Courts in terms of Expert Evidence Practice Notes, Expert Codes of Conduct and other procedural rules of which experts must be aware. It explores what may happen when multiple parties engage experts and there are ‘experts at twenty paces’ including the concept of concurrent evidence. Where do experts go wrong and how to avoid those pitfalls? It includes tips and traps to avoid when engaged as an expert witness including the preparation of written opinions as well giving evidence as an expert in court.
Date: 2021
Presenter: Alena Titterton

AIHS Webinar: Speaking up for safety: Encouraging safety voice
Speaking up about safety concerns and even ideas to improve the status quo can be difficult in some work settings. Issues with speaking up can range from effortful and cumbersome reporting systems, through to abusive supervision and lack of ‘psychological safety’. Summarising a research program spanning several different organisations in high-risk settings, this webinar presents practical recommendations informed by scientific evidence that can be used to increase safety-related voice behaviours. These recommendations include leadership, HR practices, and team factors in driving
Date: 2021
Presenter: Alena Titterton

Online Learning

The Essence of Ethics
This 3 hour online program has 2 modules: Introduction to Ethics and Ethics in practice is open to both members and non-members of the AIHS.

Giving Voice to Values
This fully online course offers an action-oriented introduction to Giving Voice to Values (or GVV), developed by Mary Gentile of the University of Virginia-Darden School of a new Business. This is about values-driven leadership development in the workplace, in business education, and in life-adapted OHS professional practice.