After reading your background readings, please review the following scenario and address the questions at the end.
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Jerry Stevens heads up an excavation crew for the municipal utilities district in a city in Nebraska. A sewer line needs to be replaced and it has been excavated with a back-hoe. The trench is 7 feet deep. The municipality’s safety rules indicate that employees should not go into the trench without a trench box. This rule is to prevent employees from being buried if the trench walls collapse. People die every year from trench cave-ins.
The trench box won’t arrive on site for another 6 hours and the city promised residents that the sewer would be fixed by the end of the day, which now seems impossible. The City Administrator called Jerry on his cell phone and indicated that it was imperative that the sewer be fixed as soon as conceivably possible because a City Council member is served by that sewer line and will raise a fuss if it’s not fixed by the promised time.
One of the more experienced workers states, “It’s only going to take 30 minutes to dig under the pipe and loosen the fittings. We don’t need the trench box. We used to do this all the time before we were required to use one of those darn things.”
Jerry knows he’s right. He used to do it himself before the rule was put in place. Also, the soil is clearly a cohesive soil and it’s highly unlikely that it will collapse. And although there is an organizational policy to use a trench box for trenches deeper than 5 feet, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) does not have
Jurisdiction over municipalities in Nebraska because municipalities are political subdivisions of the State. The only entity regulating safety policies is the City’s Safety Director and he took the day off.
- In this scenario, to what extent do you think allowing the crew into the trench without a trench box would be pushing (or exceeding) the limit?
- Discuss any ethical grey areas in this scenario?
- What in your mind is the right thing to do?
- What is the value of having an ethics program (and related programs like safety programs) and what are the responsibilities of front line leaders/supervisors and the workers when they face dilemmas such as the one described?
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