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

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

1 Ethical conversations presentation and models

OHS scenarios as discussion starters for professional discourse

3 Discussion Guide

4. Webinar: Ethics and OHS Education, 15th July 2020,American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP) OSH Academics and Researchers Round Table –https://youtube/gdQv9cKXWNY

5. 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.

6. 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.