Overview

It is the ethical responsibility of businesses to ensure that they provide a safe, secure and healthy work environment to their employees. In different industries, there are different associated risks with respect to the safety and health of workers. For instance, workers working in a minefield will be exposed to different health hazards while workers in a chemical laboratory will face different kinds of safety risks. However, in the ethical dilemma of choosing between workers’ safety and business benefits, a considerable number of businesses put their employees’ health and safety at risk to pursue profitability. Having said that, such a scenario forms a major ethical issue in business. Workplace accidents and deaths are unfortunately common across all industries and that is mostly because workers are exposed to various health hazards and deplorable working conditions.

Visualization of workplace health and safety

In fact, the International Labor Organization states that almost 7400 people die on a daily basis due to work-related accidents and health issues caused by working conditions. This contributes to more than 2.7 million deaths per year. Moreover, the post-pandemic, health and safety of the people became a serious issue more than ever around the globe, especially mentioning the enterprise world. Hence, it becomes the responsibility of employers to ensure the safety of their team while they are working for the growth of the company.

Moving ahead, there are multiple hazards that can occur in a workplace and a few of them are mentioned below

Types of Health and Safety Issues

Visualisation of different types of health and safety issues

  • Safety Hazards - These safety hazards often take place when workers perform tasks involving the operation of heavy machinery, dealing with electrical devices, working at construction sites, or in unsafe work environments like minefields. Unguarded machinery, improper wiring, and lack of safety gear at these places can frequently cause accidents, injuries, and even death in some cases. Although safety hazards can occur in any industry, manufacturing units and construction sites often experience these kinds of misevents. Besides, safety hazards can further include fire hazards, explosion hazards, or nuclear hazards subject to the working environment.
  • Biological Hazards - Biological hazards are often known as biohazards referring to the threat caused to workers by biological substances like microorganisms, viruses, or bacteria. These threats can cause multiple health issues ranging from skin irritation, allergies, or serious diseases like cancer or infections. These incidents frequently occur at hospitals, laboratories, or workplaces with unsanitary conditions.
  • Physical Hazards - This term relates to mishaps occurring due to external working conditions that can harm workers in any possible way. Extreme hot or cold weather conditions, machinery operating at a loud noise, or workplaces with maximum or minimum light availability are the major sources of these types of hazards. Employees working under these conditions face several physical health issues such as hearing or a visual impairment, body ache, or any physical injury.
  • Ergonomic Hazards - These types of hazards are persistent in the industries where employees experience musculoskeletal injuries. These injuries can occur because of various reasons including the bad posture of sitting in a workplace or being a part of a job where employees have to lift heavy objects in their daily work. Injuries from ergonomic hazards can lead to sore muscles or some long-term body illness. Elimination of these hazards can increase the comfort level of employees while working, which can lead to more productivity and job satisfaction.
  • Chemical Hazards - Opposite to biological hazards, chemical hazards are the non-biological substances that can cause harm to workers performing various tasks with them. Long exposure to these substances without proper safety equipment can cause harm to various physical diseases like headaches, skin problems, damage to the organs, or can even lead to the death of the workers. According to the statistics, a recent report by WHO states that the percentage of deaths due to exposure to dangerous chemicals increased to 29% and comprised almost 2 million deaths worldwide in 2019 when compared to 2016.
  • Workload Hazards - They can happen in all kinds of industries and can be a result of intense work pressure or lack of proper feedback or support from the top management. Subsequently, such instances can demotivate employees to give their all to an organization and can result in burnout. Micromanagement, conflicts at workplaces, lack of privacy, or an isolated working environment can be some of the sources of workload hazards.
  • Mental Hazards - Although workload and mental hazards relate much, however, there are very minute details that need to be acknowledged. Mental hazards often possess psychological issues affecting employees negatively. The stress of work and unethical organizational practices that can cause mental burnout in the employees are included in mental hazards. These misevents can lead to mental pressure, anxiety, panic, or in severe cases even death. To validate, as per the stats, almost 83% of U.S. workers suffer from work-related stress. Moreover, this stress related to work causes 120,000 deaths and costs almost $190 billion in healthcare on yearly basis.

Measures to Avoid Health and Safety Issues

Probing further, it is an obligation for employers as well to ensure the safety and health of employees that are working for them. Below are some of the ways that can assist businesses in maintaining the health and safety of their employees.

  • Identify the risks in your industry/business - Identification of the hazards is the first and the most crucial step that needs to be taken by various businesses. Because identifying the problem can lead to an effective strategizing of further steps to avoid such kinds of accidents or malpractices in the future.
  • Supplying appropriate safety equipment - There are many safety types of safety equipment available to avoid workplace hazards or to minimize the effect of all kinds of dangerous occurrences in a workplace. Hence, it is crucial for employers to provide all safety gear to the employees to ensure their safety.
  • Providing proper training for the safety of employees - Along with providing safety gear, It is vital for employers to provide knowledge to properly utilize the machinery and safety equipment with all the safety measures to avoid any kind of accidents.
  • Conducting training sessions on stress management - Workload stress is the most common hazard occurring around the globe and to avoid this, multiple sessions on stress management and work-life balance management can be organized. This will assist in creating awareness among employees on how to manage work-related stress and what can be done to take the stress burden off their shoulders.
  • Utilizing mechanical assistance - Many employees face physical health issues because of lifting heavy objects in the workplace. To avoid such a situation, assistance from various machines can be taken instead of manually lifting things.
  • Regularization of supply chains- Also, as happens in some industries, there is an exploitation of labor working in the supply chain. This mostly happens when companies set up their production or assembly lines in other countries that offer cheaper labor and greater tax benefits. For instance, most footwear and apparel brands like Nike and Gap are now setting up their factories in countries like Bangladesh and Vietnam. In such nations, labor exploitation issues like child labor and slavery are common issues that businesses need to cater to and plug out.

It often gets easier to understand the concept, when a real-life example is provided along. Hence, the further section sheds light on a case study of the occurrence of health and safety issues at a Gucci store in China.

Real-Life Case Study

Inhumane working conditions at Gucci

We all know Gucci as a high-end luxury fashion brand that is gaining popularity all around the world because of its fashion collections. However, employees working with one of the biggest fashion firms experienced some unethical practices like exploitation and harassment. They even brought the issues to the forefront by revealing them in the public domain. On 8th October 2011, an open letter by five former employees of Gucci working in Gucci Shenzhen Flagship Store, China went viral over the internet. In the letter, the employees claimed that they were forced to work under unhygienic and deplorable conditions due to which one of the female employees experienced miscarriage. This happened because of working for excessive hours, the micromanagement approach of the senior manager, and multiple restrictions on food and toilet breaks. The employees accused Gucci of lacking systematic management and complained that their human rights were violated.

When the case came to Gucci’s notice, they immediately fired the senior manager of the store who was responsible for the incident, and issued a statement asserting they will never tolerate such unethical behavior in any of their stores. By the time they took the decision, the incident had already gotten the media’s attention and citizens became aggressively angry at the brand for exposing employees to inhumane conditions putting their safety and health at risk.

Although the company’s immediate action towards the alleged malpractice manifested that the company strongly values ethical behavior, the incident did have several implications. To explain, it reflected that the company lacked the practice of supervision which damaged its reputation of the company across the nation. In addition to the same, the company’s perception as an employer brand also deteriorated as this case created a negative perception among job seekers. A large number of job seekers refused to work with a brand for the neglect of its duty to provide a safe and healthy workplace to employees.

Key takeaway - Through this case study, we learned that employers must maintain supervision of the company’s work culture and ethical practices. Otherwise, it can cost a company its reputation and even has to face legal actions taken against them.