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By Russ Kratowicz, P.E., CMRP, executive editor
If it were easy, we wouldn't call it work. Yet, no fewer than five days each week, we trudge back to our personal salt mines to chip away at tasks, sometimes thankless ones, that require our undivided attention for no less than eight hours. Longer if your department is shorthanded, and today, whose isn't? There ought to be a law.
My friends out there in readerland, there are, indeed, many laws. This country is great at making them. But let's explore the laws affecting the old salt mine, and dive into the Web morass in search of zero-cost, non-commercial, registration-free resources providing practical information about this ever-changing field that affects every worker, regardless of rank. Remember, we search the Web so that you don't have to.
The Web site for The Legal Information Institute, a non-profit activity of Cornell Law School in Ithaca, N.Y., posts Law About, brief summaries of law topics that include links to primary sources, Internet resources and other useful references. As you would expect, labor law is included. Motivate your mouse to nibble on http://www.law.cornell.edu/topics/topic2.html#employment%20law, and you'll be rewarded with Employment Law. Its eight topics include labor law, workplace safety and pensions. Item number five, Labor: an overview, is a good starting point for delving into the topic for the month.
When something is seriously wrong, human nature takes over and we look for some form of redress. This may involve sounding the alarm. Surely it's noble and honorable to do so. But sometimes the best intentions can have unintended consequences. Jim Rapoza discusses one such case, which involves software designed to better protect customers, partner privacy and trade secrets by controlling access to company documents. Dispatch your mouse to try to fetch Whistle-Blowers at Risk, found at http://www.eweek.com/article2/0,3959,1200207,00.asp, to learn why those whistles we've been hearing are going to fall silent.
Then, when she analyzed whistleblowing for Forbes, Tatiana Serafin concluded that it has exactly the same effect on one's long-term career as hari-kiri. Her article, Lifting the lidWhistle-blowers as pariahs, is replete with examples of people who learned the lesson. If your mouse is the sort that doesn't make too many waves, it will find Serafin's material at http://www.forbes.com/home_europe/newswire/2003/08/15/rtr1059211.html.
"The Brazen Careerist," a column by New York-based writer Penelope Trunk, appears regularly on the Web site operated by Bankrate.com, North Palm Beach, Fla. Her February, 2003 column, Whippersnapper whistle-blowers beware, echoes the warning about the disemboweling effect sounding the alarm can have on a person trying to do the right thing. Since you can only get away with it once, Trunk argues, timing your whistle toot is critical. Honk on over to http://www.bankrate.com/brm/news/career/20030224a1.asp to learn how to schedule the big event for maximum effect with, hopefully, minimal consequence.
As you'll note in nature, when a small bird decides to toot loudly, it generally does so from a safe, high perch, away from predators. Follow the common sense that birds exhibit by locating a safe roosting tooting spot that will protect you from the fray that will certainly ensue when you blow the whistle. A piece by William Sanjour, A Textbook For Whistle-Blowers, serves in that educative capacity. Tootle your way to Rachel's Environment & Health News, a publication of the Environmental Research Foundation, New Brunswick, N.J., which is found at http://www.rachel.org/bulletin/index.cfm?St=4. Then scroll down to #715.
If every child internalized a solid sense of the difference between right and wrong early in life and then played nicely afterward, we might not have the ethics problems we hear about today. But that's not how human nature operates. Consider conflicts of interest. They may be legal, but it's certainly embarrassing when they're dragged out into the harsh glare of the noonday sun on the front page of the local paper. As you might guess, Web resources address this issue, too.
The Online Ethics Center for Engineering and Science at CASE Western Reserve University offers resources for understanding and addressing ethically significant problems that could arise in a person's work life. The organization's Web site, http://onlineethics.org/, serves as a repository of ethics materials from many sources. The most relevant section, Engineering Practice, is accessible from the home page. Clicking on that item reveals a pull-down menu that links you to cases involving ethical issues, essays on a variety of ethics problems in engineering, educational resources for teaching engineering ethics, ethics problems submitted by visitors to the site and a section on engineering ethics in a corporate setting. This site offers plant professionals some serious reading.
Another organization that's concerned with ethics is the National Society of Professional Engineers, Alexandria, Va., the umbrella organization for licensed engineers in this country. Regulation by the state is required because engineers in private practice have an obligation to protect the life, health and property of the public who will come into contact with the engineer's work product. You certainly don't want the designer of a public building downtown to trade your long-term safety for a few shekels.