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Background

Over the past decades new ethical issues have come to the fore, partly reflecting changes in the world of work, demographic shifts, new technologies and, more generally, the impact of globalization. A very central role in this scenario is played by the occupational health professionals (OHPs) because of the increasing complex and sometimes competing responsibilities of OHPs towards workers, employers, public health and labour authorities and other bodies such as social security and judicial authorities. We analysed the development of the concept of ethics in occupational health in the contemporary world of work, focusing on emerging ethical concerns.

Methods

After reviewing the development of the concept of ethics in occupational health, we analysed the existing literature focusing on the ethical conflict in occupational health, from the individual, professional and institutional point of view, in order to identify drivers and barriers for correct professional ethics.

Results

Although the topic of ethical conflict in occupational health has been discussed since the 1970s and has received increased attention in recent years, there has been no systematic attempt to study the true extent of ethical issues and how they are resolved in practice. The presence of numerous variables to be taken into consideration, as well as the growing number of potential stakeholders involved in ethical choice, prevented the identification of an ideal proposal able to solve ethical challenges in OHPs practice.

Conclusions

To deal with the complexity in today’s changing world of work, the logic of an integrated approach must take account of the importance of all three types of ethics: personal (individual), professional and institutional.