Employees are the most important component of a business. They are a crucial asset to the business since they serve as the primary machinery of the organization. Business goals and objectives can only be achieved through employee input. Employee health and safety at the workplace is therefore an issue of crucial importance to the business and the nation’s economy by extension. For this reason, employees form a privileged group that deserves special moral consideration from the company. Workers are constantly exposed to various levels of risks in the workplace. Employers have a general legal duty to provide a safe and healthy work environment that mitigates the risks faced by employees while they are working. In addition to the legal standards, there are ethical standards that influence the workplace environment. Ethical standards are considered superior to legal standards since they go beyond the minimal requirements of the law. Ethics dictate the “right thing to do” and they act as the moral foundation for standards of conduct. This paper will discuss why employers are ethically required to provide a safe and healthy workplace for their employees. It will highlight some of the ethical theories that support the provision of a safe and healthy workplace.
Why a Safe and Healthy Workplace is an Ethical Requirement
Employee health and safety is a crucial area in the labour market. Governments and labour unions are involved in actions to ensure that employees enjoy a high level of health and safety. However, workplace safety and health is also an ethical issue. Ethics dictate what acts are considered right or wrong and ethical conduct is integral for a well-functioning society. One requirement of ethical conduct is for a person to act in a virtuous manner. A virtuous act is one that is done with good intentions or without any vicious motive. This act plays a positive role in human life by encouraging positive qualities. Westerholm asserts that it is the ethical obligation of all human beings to “prevent and to eliminate suffering or harm and also to some extent to promote well-being” (para. 14). Employers act in a virtuous manner when they ensure that their employees work in a safe environment free from harm.
The Kantian ethics stipulate that employers have a duty to provide a safe and healthy workplace for employees. Kantian ethics require people to follow the prescribed rules at all time. In the workplace setting, there are rules that prescribe the type of environment that an employer should maintain. There are laws in place dictating how employers should deal with their employees (International Labour Organization para. 1). Some of these laws state that employers must provide a safe environment free of risk for the workers. One of the leading international bodies in labour rights, the International Labour Organization declares that workers should be protected from “sickness, disease, and injury arising from their employment” (International Labour Organization para. 1). This principle is codified in the national laws of many countries. The employer is therefore required to provide high standards of health and safety in order to be in line with the Kantian perspective. Employers who fail to obey this principle and ensure the safety of their employees can be taken to court and charged with criminal offenses.
Ethical conduct requires the business management to take into account the interests of the relevant stakeholders in the company. These stakeholders include the business owners who desire higher profits from their investment. The company’s top management is therefore encouraged to engage in action that will boost productivity. One obvious way of increasing business productivity is ensuring that workers are in the best physical and mental state. Illness and injury decrease the productivity of the workers and therefore impedes on business profitability. Guaranteeing the safety and health of workers will result in higher productivity (European Agency for Safety and Health para. 7). This will translate to better performance and higher profits for the business owners.
The employee-employer relationship requires employers to take care of their workers. In addition to providing good wages for the work done, this care also entails providing a safe and healthy workplace. Employers should take measures to ensure that their workers are not exposed to needless or unreasonable risks when engaging in their jobs (Citizens Information Board para. 3). Some critics argue that the employer is not required to provide health and safety standards to the employees. These critics state that if an employee finds the current health and safety conditions of his/her workplace unsatisfactory, he/she should seek employment elsewhere. This argument is flawed since it assumes that the employee-employer relationship is based solely on the payment of wages for a certain type of labour.
Employers have an ethical obligation to ensure employee safety and health since negligence will have negative consequences. According to consequentialism ethics, the outcome of an action determines its ethical standing. Failing to ensure workplace will have some significant negative consequences for the employees and employers. Safety programs are costly and some employers may be unwilling to devote the necessary resources for safety. Ariss acknowledges that compliance with the set standards of safety and health in the workplace can be an expensive affair for the business (para. 1). Some businesses therefore fail to provide safe and healthful working conditions since there is a small probability that their violation will be discovered. These unethical actions are likely to result in major negative consequences. When safety is ignored, employees are likely to experience workplace injuries. Some of these injuries result in deaths while the non-fatal injuries lead to medical costs. In addition to this, work related incidents cost significant money due to lost productivity and wage earning capacity of the employee. The employer will suffer from legal liability. Ariss reports that in one case in North Carolina, USA, safety negligence by the management in a poultry plant led to legal liability to the company for the loss of an employee’s life (para. 4). The company suffered from heavy losses as penalties were imposed on it by the court. It is therefore important to take action to ensure that the workplace is safe for the employee.
From a utilitarian perspective, the ethical action is the one that provides maximum benefit for the greatest number of people. The Utilitarianism theory discourages selfishness since this will not benefit most people. When the employer is only concerned with his self-interest, he will only choose alternatives that benefit him. This will lead to increased incidences of injuries in the workplace as the organization will seek to promote its material well being at the expense of employee safety. In the workplace environment, a poor work environment might lead to cost reduction for the employer. However, this will cause numerous hazards to the employees. This will lead to injury and the management might be sued for negligence. The company will lose its reputation due to poor standards of health and safety. This will undoubtedly lead to losses for many people. On the other hand, if ethical conduct is observed, the employer will provide a safe and healthful environment for his workers. The European Agency for Safety and Health declares, “Good safety and health is good for business” (para. 3). The welfare of the workers will be protected and their ability to keep earning will not be impeded upon. The society will also benefit, as it will continue enjoying the services of the business.
This paper set out to discuss why employers have an ethical obligation to provide a safe and healthy workplace for their employees. The paper began by emphasizing the important role that employees play in the company. It then proceeded to show that ethics determine the “rightness” or the “wrongness” of the action engaged in. By using some of the major ethical theories including virtue ethics, Kantian ethics and Utilitarianism, the paper has demonstrated that ethical compliance is related to greater workplace safety. The paper has highlighted that providing a safe and healthy workplace for employees might be costly to the employer as he/she will have to use resources to achieve this environment. However, it has revealed that the responsibility of the employer to the safety and health of the employee is actually beneficial to the firm. From the arguments presented in this paper, it is clear that employers are ethically responsible for the safety and health of their employees while they are in the workplace.
Ariss, Sonny. “Employee Involvement to Improve Safety in the Workplace: An Ethical Imperative.” American Journal of Business. 2003. Web.
Citizens Information Board. “Health and Safety at Work.” Citizens Information. 2012. Web.
European Agency for Safety and Health at Work. “Business Aspect of Occupational Safety Health – Safety and Health at Work.” OSHA. 2013. Web.
International Labour Organization. “Occupation Safety and Health.” International Labour Organization. 2013. Web.
Westerholm, Peter. “Ethical Issues: Information and Confidentiality.” International Labour Organization. 2011. Web.