Johnmanvill Essay, Research Paper
When Did Johns-Manville Know?
The case study titled, “When Did Johns-Manville Know?”, is primarily concerned with the issue of an employer’s liability with respect to the health and safety of its employees. This case deals specifically with how much of what an employer knows, or ought to know, about a potential hazard should be communicated to workers, and what steps the company is obligated to take in protecting workers from such dangers. In addition, the avoidance of cash payments to employees for damages by seeking relief through bankruptcy protection is also discussed.
Today most people have heard, at least to some degree, about the potential health problems associated with exposure to asbestos, but in the mid 1920’s medical evidence of this threat was still being compiled. The article notes that even though concerns about potential health problems from asbestos exposure were documented as early at 1907, asbestos related illness was reported by the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1928. These concerns were enough to cause the Prudential Insurance Company to suspend life insurance policies on asbestos workers.
The Johns-Manville company was a producer and supplier of asbestos in the United States. According to J-M, the company had followed asbestos safety standards, later set forth by the U.S. Public Health Service in 1938, since the early 1930’s. The firm also alleges they had no knowledge of asbestos related cancer until as late as 1964. According to the evidence presented in the text this knowledge, and the company’s apparent attempts to conceal from employees the harmful effects of asbestos exposure, was the basis for several successful lawsuits against the organization.
Though the J-M company began taking annual chest X-rays of plant workers in the 1930’s, and participated in an asbestos study during that same time, there was evidence that the company knew more than it was telling employees. Indeed, the company was accused of deliberately not telling its workers about key medical information relating to asbestos health concerns. According to correspondence between the company and others in the industry there was a concerted effort to keep the information under wraps. Court testimony in the lawsuits, as well as Manville’s own X-ray program, revealed evidence of asbestos disease in the company’s workforce. According to statements made by a Manville company attorney, the firm’s policy was to keep things quiet.
The J-M company was so intent on keeping potential asbestos health problems quiet that when the company’s medical director suggested, in 1952, that the firm place warning labels on their asbestos products they declined. Indeed the company downplayed the X Ray results from employees, and didn’t agree to label their products until 1964. The organization’s philosophy was to keep their workers on the job until they either quit from health problems or died!
It would appear from the evidence presented in the text that the Johns-Manville company not only knew of the potential for asbestos related health problems, but also actively conspired to conceal those risks from employees. The text also indicates the company was seeking protection under federal bankruptcy law as a way to avoid paying judgements to former employees, and their families, who won court battles against the firm.
The company argued that their job was to provide jobs and make money for stockholders, and that consideration of the effects of what they were doing to employees was not an issue. Kant would argue that the company’s lies to its workers was a violation of Categorical Imperative, in that if all firms lied to their employees about the risks associated with their jobs there would be no trust between the two groups. J-M’s actions are in direct conflict with Kant’s theory that one should treat people as human beings and not as a mere means to an end.
Rawls would also support the view that what J-M did was wrong. His Original Position philosophy would hold out that no reasonable person would affirm the company’s behavior if put in a position to make the rules.
Even Mills would have a hard time supporting the organization’s actions because he would demand that they evaluate the consequences of their actions, which they clearly did not do. By concealing the potential asbestos hazards from their workers they may have been causing stockholders a great happiness in the form of increased profits, but they also caused a greater unhappiness to the families that lost loved ones due to asbestos illness and death.
I believe that each of these philosophers would also agree that J-M’s attempt to avoid paying out to the victims of their actions is also wrong. If the action was wrong, then avoiding the consequences of that action is also wrong. Utilitarians would concede that in this case the punishment might help to serve as a deterrent to others, is not just a blanket act of revenge, and is therefore justifiable.
I would agree that the actions of the Johns-Manville company were reprehensible and that after reviewing the evidence presented in the text, they had ample opportunity to protect their workers from harm while still maximizing shareholder profits. Considering the age of the text, I don’t know the final disposition of this case, but would hope that justice was eventually served.