Legal Issues and Exposure in Your Practice

While you are watching out for the health & safety of your organization and its personnel, do you ever wonder if you are being exposed to legal liability? Here’s a reality we all know too well: Legal liabilities may still arise even if you don't make mistakes and can achieve compliance.

Do you ever wonder about what might happen to your employer if you or your staff make a mistake or perhaps intentionally take an action that leads to unexpected consequences? There are just a couple of the questions that will be discussed and answered during PDC 803 Legal Issues and Exposures in Your IH Practice at AIHce EXP in Philadelphia.

Neil Feldscher, CIH, CSP, FAIHA, will be leading this professional development course focusing on the civil and criminal liabilities for which a practicing environmental health and safety (EHS) professional may find themselves exposed in the normal course of their practice.

We spoke with Feldscher to learn about his background, his experience as an AIHA Fellow, and the inspiration behind this course.

AIHA: Could you tell us a little bit about your personal and professional background?

Feldscher: I started as an industrial hygiene consultant a long time ago. My practice first expanded into safety and then environmental. While working as an expert witness, I became interested in the legal side of the EHS profession. I went to law school at night while working as an EHS consultant by day. After law school, I left consulting to practice EHS law at a New Jersey firm. I have now left the firm and joined the NYCDEP, the nation’s largest public water and sewer utility. I lecture extensively for national and local chapters of EHS organizations and am also an Adjunct Professor at the City University of New York in the Community Public Health Department.

AIHA: You're an AIHA Fellow - can you tell us more about that?

Feldscher: To me, being a Fellow really means that I have not just worked in this industry but that I have been successful at giving back and excelling in that capacity such that my peers have noticed and chosen to recognize me. I always reflect on what it took to become one—or rather what someone else had to do to promote me to become one. The package is not easy and takes a while to put together. Someone really has to believe in you and be willing to put the hours into putting together the package in a way to give you a chance to be recognized. For me, it was a mentor from early in my career. I would never be the IH or EHS Professional that I am without his guidance and aid early in my career.

It was following in his footsteps that made me start realizing that while I was advancing in my career, it was just as important to help others, promote, and give back to the profession. It is because of him that I started volunteering on AIHA committees and then proceeded to take on leadership roles. I've also started providing mentoring to area occupational health students from a local college.

"Similar to what we've seen in other industries, the government has gradually become more aggressive with holding responsible parties criminally accountable."

AIHA: What are some of the most common liability concerns in our industry? Has that changed/evolved over the past decade?

Feldscher: I think the most common are the standard negligence/malpractice, contractual, and regulatory. What I think has changed over the past decade is the potential for criminal liability. Similar to what we've seen in other industries, the government has gradually become more aggressive with holding responsible parties criminally accountable.

AIHA: What are the biggest mistakes companies make when it comes to liability education and training?

Feldscher: I think the biggest mistake is that they don't really address these kinds of issues at all. It is rare for most companies to have any kind of training program that aims to educate personnel on things that could lead to personal (and many times even corporate) liability.

AIHA: Have you taught this course before and what inspired you to create it?

Feldscher: I have taught this before. This course came about after the Deutsche Bank fire where two firefighters lost their lives. I was driving to my office and was surprised when the news on the radio announced that a business acquaintance of mine along with the site safety manager for the Deutsche Bank site had been arrested and charged with involuntary manslaughter. As we've seen an increase of this type of prosecutions, more people have asked about this subject and from there the class was developed.

AIHA: Who should be taking PDC 803?

Feldscher: It is primarily geared towards intermediate and advanced practitioners, especially those with decision making or management responsibilities. However, any practitioner that an interest in the legal side of the EHS profession and the potential for liability would find this class interesting and educational.

Berrak Sarikaya is a content strategist and brand amplifier based in Seattle, Washington.

AIHce EXP 2018, held in Philadelphia, PA May 21-23, is the EXPerience of the year for IH and OEHS professionals across the country. You’ll be exposed to the latest trends, needs, and research impacting worker health with experiential education sessions, networking opportunities with like-minded professionals, and the tools you need to solve your workplace challenges. This highly-rated event also offers a robust virtual experience for those that want to reap the benefits of conference without the travel. Register today.