1) At the present time, I would not report this situation to anyone else.
2) I have already spoken to my Area Manager and to the company’s owner to report it, and I do not yet know what the company’s response will be. Even though Mr. Lord was fairly gruff in his response, it may be that a cleanup will follow. Mr. Rivieria’s answer is the most instructive – if I keep my area clean, then I should be able to avoid the hazard of an explosion. Even though wood dust can be explosive, I do not yet have conclusive proof that it would be explosive, as I have not witnessed the hazard myself, and my co-worker who has witnessed only has two weeks on the job. Interestingly, she is willing to have me put my reputation on the line, but she is not willing to do it herself. If she is genuinely worried about the risk of an explosion, why is she not calling OSHA herself? She would have the same OSHA whistleblower protections as anyone else.
3) If I report this situation, several things could happen. I could lose my job – and quickly. Mr. Lord has made it clear that he does not like any sign of disloyalty. Even if I did not lose my job, though, my potential for advancement could be stuck down a very messy drain, for a long period of time. I would like to move into management eventually, and if I am seen as someone who is not a team player, then I would not move up in the company. Instead, I would be stuck in my current position.
4) If I fail to report the workplace conditions, there are also several things that could happen. Hypothetically, if the wood dust really is at the point of being a hazard, then there could be a tragic explosion in the facility, which could lead to significant injury, of not fatality. While this responsibility would not fall on me in terms of liability, because ownership was aware of the situation but did nothing to rectify it, the moral responsibility of not having notified OSHA of the problem would fall, at least in part, on me. It is true that it would also fall on all of the management personnel whom I have informed about the situation, but it would still represent guilt with which it would be difficult to live. I also lose credibility with Karen, who asked me to report the situation; however, that is a relatively minor consideration, given her brief tenure with the company and her own unwillingness to report the situation – after all, she saw the same things and did not report them to the people who could change them either.
5) The presence of the wood dust hazard in the plant should qualify as whistleblowing under the aegis of protesting environmental hazards, as well as general workplace safety. OSHA has set specific guidelines for the amount of wood dust exposure that may legally take place in a given day or week in the workplace, and wood dust in excess of that amount is considered a hazard. If the owner does not take corrective action, and the wood dust exposure is in excess of OSHA standards, then he would have to take action. Whistleblowing because I believe that the wood dust is too high would be considered a protected action if the owner does not take corrective steps.
OSHA (2012). Occupational safety and health guideline for wood dust, all soft and hardwoods except western red cedar. http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/healthguidelines/wooddustallsoftandhardwoodsexceptwesternredcedar/recognition.html
OSHA (2007). Your rights as a whistleblower. http://www.osha.gov/OshDoc/data_General_Facts/whistleblower_rights.pdf
Ruggiero, V. (2008). Thinking Critically About Ethical Issues, 7th edition. New York: McGraw-Hill.