Ethics of Workplace Safety
On a daily basis, employers will consider the tradeoff between costs and safety. As a business decision, workplace safety has implications of expenses and time. Managers must understand the importance of work safety, and not view it as a sunk cost, but as an investment for a business.
Dr. Jan Wachter, professor of Safety Sciences at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, feels very strongly that management adopt a stronger approach to workplace safety. He says that the greatest economic reason to support an ethics-based approach to safety management within a business is that prosperity generates an environment where continuing improvement and reduced risk are affordable.
A safety strategy that focuses on workers will require moral conviction and professionalism, despite pressures from higher management to control increasing costs. Safety programs based on ethics is better for sustaining and managing future safety issues. We will consider what role safety plays in helping managers and leaders meet the demands of business strategy, financials, and operational performance.
Businesses that develop a workplace safety priority will produce ethical outcomes such as justice, open communication, sensitivity towards others, organizational support, and management credibility. (Krause 2007) These principles of business culture will drive an organization toward profitability and sustainability.
Managers must lead a culture that values safe behavior for the sake of ethics, and not for the purpose of regulatory compliance. Currently, three Department of Labor (DOL) agencies have responsibility for the administration and enforcement of the laws enacted to protect the safety and health of workers in America.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration
- Safety and health conditions in most private industries are regulated by OSHA or OSHA-approved state systems.
- Employers subject to the OSH Act also have a general duty to provide work and a workplace free from recognized, serious hazards.
Mine Safety and Health Administration
- Responsibility for administration and enforcement of the Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977, which protects the safety and health of workers employed in the nation's mines.
The Fair Labor Standards Act
- Intended to protect the health and well being of youth in America.
- Contains minimum age restrictions for employment, restrictions on the times of day youth may work, and the jobs they may perform. (Department of Labor)
Federal safety procedures help to minimize risk and control hazards. Any violations may bring serious consequences, such as fines and penalties and even loss of a business license. Ethical principles demand that employers do more to protect its workers, and go beyond required legal rules.
It has been argued that managerial decisions can result in either harm or benefit to others, thus managers are ethically obliged to use their authority to create benefit rather than cause harm. But proper attention to workplace safety can result in improved morale, increased job satisfaction, and greater health for the organization as a whole. (Ariss 2003)
Employees expect management to act responsibly and to put employee health and safety first, far above and well beyond any other concern of the business. In order to create a safe environment, employers can use the following techniques:
- Set up a safety incentive program to motivate workers to comply with workplace safety guidelines
- Adopt a zero-tolerance policy on workplace violence and safety violations
- Ongoing safety training for employees
These techniques in the long run will bring savings of time, money, and injuries. For optimal effectiveness, managers should note necessary steps for workers operating in the workplace. These notes should be followed up by an analysis for improvement at future date. Companies should have safety programs blended into their business plans and cultures. The results of having integrated safety programs include fewer accidents, waste, and downtimes. (White 2006)
A safer workplace has healthier workers, less costs, more efficiency, and overall, higher quality. Employers must go above and beyond of what is required and create a culture of care and respect for their valuable assets, employees.
Ariss, S. Employee involvement to improve safety in the workplace: An ethical imperative. (2003). American Journal of Business, 18(2).
Krause, T. The ethics of safety. (2007). EHS Today.
United States Department of Labor, Workplace safety & health. Retrieved from website: www.dol.gov
Wachter, J. (2011, June). Ethics- the absurd yet preferred approach to safety management, Professional Safety.
White, D. (2006). Playing it safe to increase profit. Retrieved from www.sbnonline.com