LEGAL, ETHICAL ISSUES IN THE WORK ENVIRONMENT: Employee health and safety
The paper aims to provide a comprehensible description of employee health and safety in addition to highlighting at least two ethical theories, which will be the basis of analysis of employee health and safety. It further intends to expound on specific areas of law under which employee health and safety will be analyzed.
The most accepted definition of health is from the world health organization, which defines health as a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity (Group., 2011). Basically health hazards fall into four categories: they are physical, chemical, biological and carcinogenic.
Employee’s health and safety is a multidiscipline issue concentrated with the protection for safety and health of people engaged in work or employment (Barnett-Schuster, 2008).
The word safety is used in all countries but it is difficult to find a consistent definition. Some define safety as an absence of danger and others say that danger is absence of safety and finally some define safety as a state of protection or a condition not involving risks. There is no definite state of absolute safety as there is always a chance that a risk of something going wrong despite how small that chance may be of actually occurring.
Most countries agree that setting good occupational safety and health standard are needed for many reasons. For instance moral, economic and legal. Different countries have varying approaches to employee’s safety and health. For example, European union member states have enforcing authorities to ensure that the basic legal requirements for employee safety and health are complied with. In many European countries there is a strong cooperation between employer and worker organizations for example Unions, to ensure good occupational safety and health performances as it is recognized it has benefits for both the worker and and the employing company (Barnett-Schuster, health and safety, 2008).
The United Kingdom health and safety legislation is drawn up and enforced by the health and safety executive and local authorities or local council. The United States of America employee safety and health act of 1970 created both the national institute of occupational safety and health and the employee safety and health administration in the U.S. department of labour. Canadian workers are covered by provincial or federal labour codes depending on the industry they work in the workers covered by federal legislation including those in mining, transportation and federal employment are covered by the Canada labour code. In Malaysia, the department of occupational safety and health under the ministry of human resource is responsible to ensure that the safety and health of workers in both the public and private sector are upheld.
Health and safety in the workplace has improved in most industrialized countries over the past 20 to 30 years. However the situation in developing countries is relatively unclear because of inadequate accident and disease recognition, record keeping and reporting mechanisms.
Workplaces need to have an adequate supply of fresh air. In many cases suitable ventilation can be achieved by opening windows and doors, but where necessary, mechanical ventilation systems should be provided and maintained to an appropriate standard.
Indoor temperatures must provide reasonable comfort during working hours. Where work requires less physical effort, such as in an office, temperatures should be at least 16ºC. Where work requires more physical effort, the minimum temperatures can be reduced to 13ºC, subject to other conditions such as humidity and ventilation.
Where temperatures move from what is regarded as comfortable, the risk to the health of those individuals exposed increases. Heat or Cold Stress may occur depending on the environment; as a result, there is a requirement to assess the risk to health. Consideration should be given to personal and environmental factors, such as duration of exposure, clothing, body activity, ambient temperatures, radiant heat, humidity and air velocity. Although the guidance on temperatures does not extend to outdoor work, employers should consider weather conditions. For instance, where employees work in hot or cold conditions, consider: introducing engineering controls such as, insulation, heaters, solar film, local cooling or blinds as required, providing hot or cold drinks, restricting exposure – sufficient rest periods, job rotation, medical pre-selection to determine employee suitability, Personal Protective Equipment and training and supervision.
Lighting should be sufficient to enable people to work and move about safely. Natural light is preferable, although artificial lighting is acceptable and is often used to boost light levels. Where necessary, local or task lighting should also be used.
Where loss of lighting could pose a risk, independently powered automatic emergency lighting should be provided. Cleaning work and disposal of waste should be carried out routinely in order to maintain good standards of cleanliness and hygiene in the workplace. Workrooms should provide enough free space to allow people to freely access work areas and move within the workplace, free from the risk of tripping or striking objects, etc. Where space is limited, careful planning should be considered. As a general rule, each person should have a workspace of at least 11 cubic metres. This calculation could include the space taken up by their desk and chair, but should exclude larger fixed items of furniture or equipment, such as a large cupboard or photocopier which is not part of their workspace. Workrooms, except for those where people only work for a short period, should be of sufficient height. Where height obstructions are present, they should be clearly identified usually by marking tapes or warning signs. Work stations and seating must be suitable for the work and the individuals using them. Where work can be done seated, suitable seats should be used. All seating should provide adequate support particularly for the lower back. Footrests should be provided for individuals that cannot place their feet on the floor to provide support. Work stations should allow individuals to leave them quickly in an emergency. An adequate supply of clean drinking water must be available. This should normally be obtained from a tap directly from a rising main, but drinking water can be provided from a tap supplied by a storage cistern, providing this is cleaned and disinfected regularly.
Where there may be confusion with non-drinking water, the drinking water source should be clearly identified.
Suitable drinking cups should be provided where required. If it is not possible to provide a piped supply of water, bottled water or water dispensing systems may be provided as an alternative source of drinking water. Containers should be refilled at least daily unless they are chilled water dispensers where containers are returned to suppliers for refilling.
An appropriate number of sanitary conveniences must be provided, and should be adequately ventilated, lit and kept clean. Separate facilities for male and females must be provided unless the convenience is in a separate room capable of being locked. Washing facilities must be readily accessible, adequate in number and must be provided with both hot and cold running water, soap and hand-drying facilities.
Where work is particularly strenuous, dirty or could result in contamination of the skin by a harmful offensive material like body fluids, hazardous chemical and contaminated soil, showers should be provided.
Suitable rest facilities should be provided for people to eat meals, etc. particularly where food eaten in the workplace could become contaminated.
Where there is no on-site canteen, or facility close by where hot food can be obtained, the employer should provide facilities for heating food usually a kettle and microwave would meet these requirements. Canteens can be used as rest facilities, providing there is no obligation to purchase food.
Where necessary, the rest facilities must also be suitable for pregnant or nursing mothers, close to sanitary facilities and provide a place for a pregnant worker to lie down if required.
Adequate changing facilities are required in areas where special clothing is required for example: uniforms, personal protective suits. These areas should ensure the privacy of the user, and include facilities for secure storage of personal belongings. Any part of the workplace or equipment that could pose a risk to the health, safety, or welfare of staff or others, needs to be maintained in a safe condition. Floors should be of sound construction and in good condition, free from hazards that could cause slips, trips or falls. Open-sided staircases should be protected with upper and lower rails, and wider staircases may require to be fitted with a handrail down the middle.
Vehicle traffic routes should be wide enough and high enough to enable vehicles to move about safely. Some workplaces need to address transport management where there are vehicles such as cars, vans and large goods vehicles operating on site.
Employers may also need to look at forklift, mobile cranes, traffic and pedestrians. Employers need to assess the risks of falling from a height and injuries from falling objects. Hazardous substances contained in tanks, pits and other structures, should be securely fenced or covered to prevent individuals falling into them.
Transparent and translucent doors, gates, walls, windows should be clearly identified or made apparent to avoid accidental contact. In addition, they should be made of safety materials or be protected against breakage.
Windows should be designed so they can be safely cleaned, preferably from inside the building or, if this is not possible, by a safe method.
Doors and gates should be suitably constructed and fitted with safety devices, such as self-closers, as required.
Ethics can be defined broadly as the study of what is right or good for human beings (Graham, 2004). It attempts to determine what people ought to do, or what goals they should pursue. Philosophers have sought for centuries to develop dependable and universal methods for making ethical judgments. In earlier times, some thinkers analogized the discovery of ethical principles with the derivation of mathematical proofs. They asserted that people could discover fundamental ethical rules by applying careful reasoning a priori. A priori reasoning is based on theory rather than experimentation and deductively draws conclusions from cause to effect and from generalizations to particular instances. In more recent times, many philosophers have concluded that although careful reasoning and deep thought assist substantially in moral reasoning, experience reveals that the complexities of the world defeat most attempts to fashion precise, a priori guidelines. Nevertheless, a review of the most significant ethical theories is useful in the analysis of issues of business ethics.
Social ethics theories assert that special obligations arise from the social nature of human beings. Such theories focus not only on each person’s obligations to other members of society but also on the individual’s rights and obligations within the society. For example, social egalitarians believe that society should provide each person with equal amounts of goods and services regardless of the contribution each makes to increase society’s wealth.
Another theory is the of distributive justice proposed by Harvard philosopher John Rawls, which seeks to analyze the type of society that people in a “natural state” would establish if they could not determine in advance whether they would be talented, rich, healthy, or ambitious, relative to other members of society. According to distributive justice, the society contemplated through veil of ignorance which is the one that should be developed because it considers the needs and rights of all its members (Rawls, 1971). Rawls did not argue that such a society would be strictly egalitarian, and that it would unfairly penalize those who turned out to be the most talented and ambitious. Instead, Rawls suggested that such a society would stress equality of opportunity, not of results. On the other hand, Rawls stressed that society would pay heed to the least advantaged to ensure that they did not suffer unduly and that they enjoyed society’s benefits. To Rawls, society must be premised on justice. Everyone is entitled to his or her fair share in society, a fairness all must work to guarantee.
Intuitionism is another theory which holds that a rational person possesses inherent powers to assess the correctness of actions (Huemer, 2007). Though an individual may refine and strengthen these powers, they are just as basic to humanity as our instincts for survival and self-defense. Just as some people are better artists or musicians, some people have more insight into ethical behavior than others. Consistent with intuitionism is the good person philosophy, which declares that if individuals wish to act morally, they should seek out and emulate those who always seem to know the right choice in any given situation and who always seem to do the right thing. One variation of these ethical approaches is the “Television Test,” which directs us to imagine that every ethical decision we make is being broadcast on nationwide television. An appropriate decision is one we would be comfortable broadcasting on national television for all to witness.
The ethical and safety outcomes include Procedural justice that is If leaders seem to be making decisions in fair ways, workers assume they can follow instructions without fear of mistreatment, Open and candid upward communications meaning that in an environment where supervisors and other leaders respond well to communications from lower down in the organization even to bad news, ethical issues are more likely to surface before they become a crisis, Inclination of workers to approach peers on sensitive issues , Perceived organizational support for espoused values and finally Management credibility (Krause, 2007).
In conclusion, Employers must ensure the Health and Safety of their employees and the wider public who come into contact with their business. Employee safety and health should not be sidelined as a service delivery issue. Worker’s health and well-being is an important aspect of workers’ motivation and job satisfaction, which influence productivity as well as retention. A worker’s safety also affects the quality of job.
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