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Business - Occupational Health and Safety .docx

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Western University
Philosophy 2074F/G
Michael Herbert

OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH AND SAFETY – BOATRIGHT  Many Americans live with the possibility of serious injury and death every working day  Even stress on the job is now being recognized as a workplace hazard that is responsible for headaches, back and chest pains stomach ailments and a variety of emotional disorders  It is useful to make a distinction between safety and health. Safety hazards generally involve loss of limbs, burns and broken bones  Health hazards are factors in the workplace that cause illnesses and other conditions that develop over a lifetime of exposure  Because occupationally related diseases result from long term exposure and not from identifiable events on the job, employers have generally not been held liable for them, and they have not, until recently been recognized in workers compensation programs  Because the agencies lacked the resources to set standards for exposure to hazardous substances they relied heavily on private standard setting organizations and the industries themselves  Congress, in passing the OSH Act granting the right to all employees of a safe and healthy workplace, was apparently relying on a cost benefit analysis balancing the cost to industry with the savings to the economy as a whole  It is not clear, though, what specific protection workers are entitled to or what specific obligations employers have with respect to occupational health and safety  Two factors enable employers to deny that their actions are a direct cause of an accident in the workplace. One factor is that industrial accidents are typically caused by a combination of factors, frequently including the actions of workers themselves  Two common law defenses for employers: that a workplace accident was caused in part by lack of care on the part of the employee (the doctrine of contributory negligence) or by the negligence of coworkers (the fellow servant rule)  A further common law defense is that employees voluntarily assume the risk inherent in work  The risk itself is sometimes part of the allure, but more often the fact that hazardous jobs offer a wage premium in order to compensate for the greater risk leads workers to prefer them to less hazardous, less well paying jobs  The argument that employees assume the risk of work can be challenged on several grounds. First, workers need to possess a sufficient amount of information about the hazards involved  Also, they cannot exercise the right to bargain for safer working conditions without access to the relevant information  In order for employers to be relieved of responsibility for injury or death in the workplace, though, it is necessary that employees have adequate information at the time they make that decision  Individuals are free in one sense to accept or decline whatever employment is available, but the alternatives of unemployment or work at poverty level wages may be so unacceptable that people lack freedom of choice in any significant sense  A standard analysis of coercion that is suggested by this example involved two elements: getting a person to choose an alternative that he or she doesn’t want and issuing a threat to make the person worse off if he or she does not choose that alternative 
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