Trading jobs for health: Ionizing radiation, occupational ethics, and the welfare argument

Science and Engineering Ethics 8 (2):139-154 (2002)
Abstract
Blue-collar workers throughout the world generally face higher levels of pollution than the public and are unable to control many health risks that employers impose on them. Economists tend to justify these risky workplaces on the grounds of the compensating wage differential (CWD). The CWD, or hazard-pay premium, is the alleged increment in wages, all things being equal, that workers in hazardous environments receive. According to this theory, employees trade safety for money on the job market, even though they realize some of them will bear the health consequences of their employment in a risky occupational environment. To determine whether the CWD or hazard-pay premium succeeds in justifying alleged environmental injustices in the workplace, this essay (1) surveys the general theory behind the “compensating wage differential”; (2) presents and evaluates the “welfare argument” for the CWD; (3) offers several reasons for rejecting the CWD, as a proposed rationale for allowing apparent environmental injustice in the workplace; and (4) applies the welfare argument to an empirical case, that of US nuclear workers. The essay concludes that this argument fails to provide a justification for the apparent environmental injustice faced by the 600,000 US workers who have labored in government nuclear-weapons plants and laboratories.
Keywords compensating wage differential (CWD)  occupational ethics  nuclear workers  ionizing radiation  nuclear weapons  hazard pay  environmental injustice
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