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Ethical Treatment of Employees: Worker Safety

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1 Ethical Treatment of Employees: Worker Safety
Philosophy 223 Ethical Treatment of Employees: Worker Safety

2 “The Right to Risk Information”
Faden and Beauchamp examine the arguments surrounding the right of access to risk information and the right to refuse workplace hazards. Their thesis is that in order to claim that employees have freely assumed the risks of employment they must be aware of those risks and, lest the right to risk information be an essentially empty one, we must also recognize the derivative right to refuse to work if it is hazardous.

3 OSHA Balances workers’ rights to a safe work place with the continued viability of business. Generally safety improvements that offer substantial improvement in safety without threatening the continued function of the company are required. Uses consequentialist cost-benefit analysis to balance the costs to industry versus the savings to the economy as a whole.

4 The Right to Risk Information
The reasonable person standard What a fair and informed member of the relevant community would see as sufficient. Subjective standard What each individual would subjectively determine is a sufficient amount of information.

5 A Balancing Act Industry resists full disclosure of information because of trade secrets. OSHA seeks a balance between the safety concerns of employees and the viability of the regulated businesses.

6 A Right to Refuse? A right to know is worthless without a right to refuse. Workers have the right to request an OSHA inspection if they believe an OSHA standard has been violated or an imminent danger exists. Have the right to participate in inspections. Are protected from retaliation for exercising their OSHA rights if there is a legitimate safety or health complaint.

7 Limits of OSHA OSHA does not cover small businesses (fewer than 10 workers), federal, state, or municipal employees. Does not require workplace health and safety committees. Without collective bargaining power there is a concern that workers cannot sufficiently protect their workplace rights.

8 Walkouts OSHA regulations allow for walk outs “if there is a genuine danger of death or serious injury.” In the case of a legitimate walkout, workers’ jobs are protected. What about cases where risks are less serious or more uncertain? What if workers cannot afford the loss of pay when they walk out? Should employers be required to pay them? Legitimizes strike with pay which management and Congress have traditionally found unacceptable.

9 Standards for Justified Walkouts
Good-faith subjective standard – the worker honestly believes that a health hazard exists. Reasonable person standard – requires the belief to be reasonable under the circumstances as well as sincerely held. Objective standard – requires evidence, often established by an expert, that the risk exists.

10 “Occupational Health and Safety”
Boatright examines the moral foundations for a right to occupational health and safety. He argues that the common law defense of voluntary assumption of risk is a faulty principle since it rests on how a right to a safe workplace is worked out. In the end he argues for a strong duty to not only provide safety information to employees but a duty to seek out safety information and a correlative right to refuse the hazards that are discovered or disclosed.

11 Safety vs. Health Hazards
Safety Hazards: generally involve loss of limbs, burns, broken bones, electrical shocks, cuts, sprains, bruises, and impairment of sight or hearing. Health Hazards: factors in the workplace that cause illness and other conditions that develop over a lifetime of exposure.

12 Justification of a Right to a Safe and Healthy Workplace
Follows from the right to survival. Cost-benefit analysis: essentially utilitarian reasoning balancing the costs to industry with the savings to the economy as a whole. Seems to be the motivation governing Congress’s passing of OSHA.

13 The Question of Causation
Direct Cause: Companies are responsible for those harms that result “directly from the actions of employers where the employer is at fault in some way.” Two factors that allow employers to deny their actions are a direct cause: Industrial accidents are typically caused by a combination of factors, often including the actions of workers themselves. It is often not practical to reduce the probability of harm any further than it has already been reduced.

14 VAR and Coercion Voluntary Assumption of Risk is a common law defense which claims that employees voluntarily (without coercion) assume the risk inherent in their work Coercion: Getting a person to choose an alternative that he or she does not want. Issuing a threat to make the person worse off if he or she does not choose that alternative. A threat involves a stated intention of making a person worse off in some way.

15 Is it so easy? The defense of voluntary assumption of risk seems to be circular. Employers claim that they are freed from responsibility when workers assume the risks of employment without being coerced. However, whether employees are coerced or not depends on the right of employees to a safe and healthy workplace and the obligation of employees to provide it.

16 Is There a Right to Know about Risks?
Autonomy (Kant): in order to operate as an autonomous agent we must possess the requisite knowledge such that we may rationally make proper decisions. Utilitarian: workers who are aware of hazards will be better able to protect themselves. Some economists hold that allowing market forces to determine the level of acceptable risk is the best means to secure welfare. This requires a trade-off between compensation and risks. However proper knowledge of the risks is required in order to successfully negotiate these trade-offs.

17 Corresponding Duties The right to knowledge about risk requires the fulfillment of four duties by employers: the duty to reveal information already possessed; the duty to communicate information about hazards through labeling, written communications, and training programs; the duty to seek out existing information from scientific literature and other sources; the duty to produce new information (i.e. through sponsorship of new studies).

18 Justifications for Refusing Hazardous Work
The employee reasonably believes that the working conditions pose an imminent risk of death or serious injury. The employee has reason to believe that the risk cannot be avoided by any less disruptive course of action.

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