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Paying People to Risk Life or Limb

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 March 2019

Robert C. Hughes*
University of Pennsylvania


Does the content of a physically dangerous job affect the moral permissibility of hiring for that job? To what extent may employers consider costs in choosing workplace safety measures? Drawing on Kantian ethical theory, this article defends two strong ethical standards of workplace safety. First, the content of a hazardous job does indeed affect the moral permissibility of offering it. Unless employees need hazard pay to meet basic needs, it is permissible to offer a dangerous job only if prospective employees have a reason other than hazard pay to choose this job instead of safer alternatives. Second, employers typically cannot justify omitting expensive safety measures by paying employees more, even if employees prefer higher pay to greater safety. Employers offering dangerous jobs must meet these two standards to avoid treating their employees merely as means.

Copyright © Society for Business Ethics 2019 

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