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Among the central institutions of civilized society are those that seek to protect and ensure the health of people in the workplace. For most individuals, the workplace accounts for the majority of serious injuries and harmful exposures. If workers are properly protected, they receive a major contribution toward a healthier and likely longer life. In contrast, if workers are not protected, the workplace becomes a significant source of harm, loss of both physical and mental health, and may result in a shorter and less satisfying life.


Preventing occupational diseases is of primary concern because of their prevalence and the harm they inflict. Moreover, toxic exposures to workers can be brought into the home where they affect spouses and children. If the harm inflicted on adults or children is sufficiently great, it can arbitrarily interfere with lifelong well-being.

Health protection and health care institutions, along with educational institutions, are strategically important for securing and fostering fair opportunities. Everyone in the community, regardless of talents, abilities, and motivations, should have a fair opportunity to develop their endowments to the best of their ability in order to achieve life goals. This is the fair equality of opportunity aspect of justice.

Three precepts of justice generically guide the prevention and treatment of disease. Justice requires

  1. Preventing diseases in the first place

  2. Providing adequate and timely treatment for those who contract diseases or other workplace harms

  3. Maintaining people as close as possible to a lifetime of good health

A just health protection and health care system would have institutions to prevent and treat diseases at all life stages.


The federal institutions providing for workplace health protections in the United States are the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSHAct) has several provisions for workplace protections. The main and legal authority for employee protections are OSHA- issued health standards addressing toxic materials or harmful physical agents. In order to protect employee from these toxicants the OSHAct requires the Secretary of Labor to issue health standards

which most adequately [assure], to the extent feasible, on the basis of the best available evidence, that no employee will suffer material impairment of health or functional capacity even if such employee has regular exposure to the hazard dealt with by such standard[s] for the period of his working life.

When researchers have identified a toxicant, OSHA issues a proposed regulation following the substantive requirements and subject to administrative procedures specified in the law. The health standards must be based on the “latest available scientific data in the field, the feasibility of the standards, ...

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