Case study on Manuel G. Velasquez’s book about coal mining
Manuel G. Velasquez in the book, “Business Ethics: Concepts and Cases”, highlights business ethics-related issues. He also points out views’ explanations that can be comprehended but he does not oversimplify them by including the basic ethical theory. Debates on the safety of miners have been held across the world due to several mining disasters that relate to the need for more profits rather than ensuring the miners’ well-being.
As an example, the focus of this case study on Manuel G. Velasquez’s book about coal mining is a disaster with highlights on violations that occur while mining coal in various parts of the world. Although the assumptions made are that there was an “average” safety record, the disaster at the coal mine in West Virginia reported the worst record of a fatality where 29 workers died at about 3:02 p.m. on 5th April 2010 on Easter Monday.
Another disaster that has been recorded as the worst is the Massey Energy Co disaster that occurred forty years ago. The impression of Don Blankenship the Chairman and CEO of the company was that the safety standard surpassed the national and state requirements. The company’s management opted to hold the assertion that an unanticipated and high amount of natural gas and methane caused a crack on the floor of the mine and that is what necessitated the study.
The findings of the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) indicated several safety violations that were cited within a period of 3 years. The management was prone to these violations (Manuel 450). In the field of coal mining in a community-friendly and conscientious manner, Massey is unrelentingly considered a bad player. A successful state and federal safety agencies’ investigation realized that there were several law infringements committed by the mine’s management. Criminal violations also caused the subsidiary of Massey in the Aracoma Coal mine to be prosecuted.
Utilitarianism refers to a theory whose emphasis is the effects that an act has. Moral acts refer to the acts whose effects are good to most people. Simply put, they may be viewed as the acts that result in the well-being and happiness of the majority of the people which is what is given priority. Utilitarianism refers to a theory that attempts to define the freedom and extent of an individual, authority state, and independence. This theory defines the difference between the rights of a person and those of other people.
Utilitarianism can also be viewed as justice. Its eventual concern or value is survival. The reason is the most vital way for a person to survive and it is the process by which an individual thinks and eventually chooses what to do. Miners were denied this right by being threatened that they would lose jobs (Manuel 450).
As such, good acts surpass the life of a person and reason. Engaging in evil deeds destroys reason and life. A person should live by three vital values to ensure their survival. These are rationality or reason, productiveness or purpose, and pride or self-esteem. Truthfulness, justice, honor, and independence are all important parts of reason. When all these parts of reason are deployed, a person becomes productive and is able to realize his goals. Eventually, a person gains a sense of esteem and self-importance from the activities that he/she engages in. This is a juncture at which supporting the life of a person becomes important.
Throughout the process, a man has to live for himself without sacrificing himself to others or sacrificing others to achieve personal gain. The most vital moral principle is achieving happiness. Nevertheless, a person should not choose his deeds on the basis of emotions since the road that leads to happiness has sorrows and bitterness.
Mistakes that individuals can make while approaching utilitarianism theory during their first time are discussed in the second chapter in a more conclusive and expounded manner. The allegations of the fresh discussion are that good behavior is determined by a circumstance rather than the character of a person. There is also a new debate on moral reasoning and insensible moral perception, decision making, and cultural variations.
The assertion of the management of the company is that an unanticipated and high amount of natural gas or methane was caused by a crack at the floor of the mine. This cannot justify the 29 workers’ death. Everybody’s good was not maximized by the organization. Despite being a moral issue, Blankenship opted to capitalize on profits for itself instead of the good of the employees and their families as well as the community that surrounds the mine. This violated the utilitarianism theory whose emphasis is on maximizing the good of all.
Maximization of the policies of observing safety procedures may have prevented accidents that were costly. The administration area is wanting and the requirement of utilitarianism is that positive changes should be made to ensure the happiness of every individual in the coal mine. Their deeds of violating simple safety procedures of establishing ventilation in the mines were against the overall utilitarian principle which postulates that every action should be done to ensure the good of all people as well as the community.
The product of doing this is the attainment of self-esteem and importance from the activities of a person especially the staff at the company. This is the point at which the life of an individual becomes worth sustaining despite the losses that may be incurred in monetary value. Considering the difficulties and the whole process that was undergone by the miners, it is prudently acknowledgeable that a man has to live for himself without sacrificing himself to others or sacrificing others to achieve personal gain. This was perfected by the management of this company.
Considering the rules of utilitarianism, it is advisable to be respectful and honest to human rights because this will undoubtedly enable most people or the majority to realize their good. If Massey Energy would have been doing this, all individuals, families and societies would have never experienced the tragic situation.
The rights of the employees regarding security measures at the mine were violated and this caused the disaster. Methane monitors ought to be calibrated regularly at least one time after every month. However, they were calibrated after three months in the mine of this company throughout the year in 2006. There was a fire outbreak in a different mine caused by violations of the established security measures and these were not fixed by the company. Additionally, there were inappropriate controls for ventilation in the mines (Manuel 450).
This case also indicates a violation of several rights. For instance, there was a violation of the rights of the employees to strike, join the existing union groups and also try to get the most from their situation. The firm’s management’s act of denying workers their rights to join unions was a violation of the individuals’ rights to achieve their objectives and their rights to involve or to associate with other people so that they can realize common ends.
The findings of this case study indicate that the company did not have workers’ unions. The right to go on strike enables workers to refuse the working conditions if they do not agree with them. Nevertheless, when the employees are allowed this right, their right to go on strike is restricted by two morals which include the respect for a legitimate contract as well as the consideration of human and constitutional rights of the entire public about life. There are different ways of defining rights and they may be described as moral and civil rights.
- Moral rights: The basis of these rights is not law, although moral rights can also be civil rights.
- Civil rights: Civil rights are legal rights warranting certain treatment or guarantee of non-interference in certain actions.
This case study shows that ineffective high rank management ran the mine every day and this caused the miners to perform their duties in hazardous and tricky situations failure to which they would lose their jobs. Consequently, the workers had to endure the hazardous environment without launching complaints. This contravened the statutory rights that the Federal law guarantees all miners.
These laws are as follows:
- The right to choose a representative for the purposes of health and safety
- The right to decline to work under practices or conditions that seem unhealthy, illegal or unsafe.
- The right to report any suspected danger or violation to the representative of the minors, the operator, reprisal or Mine Safety and Health Administration.
- The right to select a representative as well as to participate in pre- as well as post-inspection conferences.
- The right to choose a representative to accompany the inspector from the Mine Safety and Health Administration during the inspection process without losing their pay (the “walk around” rights).
- The right to a free Black Lung test and examinations
- The rights to safety and health training
- The right to be protected against discrimination for exercising their statutory rights.
By considering this case study, it is clear that there was a discouragement force that kept miners from halting the process of coal production for the purposes of safety which is a provision of the statutory rights. This was due to the fact that the Blankenship was not a union and this made Massey to threaten that it would close the Upper Big Branch in case its miners tried to form unions because UMWA attempted to unionize them at that time.
It was apparent that the unions were not recognized by the company because miners were assured of getting good treatment and moral rights without the threats of losing jobs (Manuel 450). Staging a protest implied risking losing their career and therefore they had to remain silent. The miners’ testimonies indicated that they did not know the severity of their conditions at the mine because the outcomes of the inspections were not revealed to them.
This clearly indicated that the belief of the officials at Massey Energy considered the violations of workers’ rights as the cost of conducting business. This was depicted by several public statements that were made after this incident.
The workers’ death mostly can be caused by an unpredictable happening by chance or an industrial accident. However, an employee’s fatality should not be considered as a mistake. It is caused by a preventable and in some cases a predictable event. The liability in such circumstances is transformed. Although no single person is responsible for causing the accident, specific individuals in own capacities as the representatives of the disembodied corporations may and ought to take legal responsibility of the impact of events that can be prevented.
In related circumstances, the executives are likely to avoid criminal liability since the committed actions that the individuals commit obviously show the required “mens area” element that is required in majority of the criminal convictions. In Latin, “mens area” means “guilty mind”. It implies the criminal intent concept.
This concept puts the law into use by trying to differentiate various criminal blameworthiness levels. This is usually true for most laws about homicide. There are different laws across the world although most nations attempt to distinguish manslaughter and murder. Therefore, just because the intention of the management was not to have the 29 deaths caused by their actions did not make them innocent. The law requires that the mining firms to have and to follow the set safety procedures in protecting the lives of the employees. It is the responsibility of the company to follow up any time safety violation occurs to ensure the safety of all workers.
When a company fails to improve the working condition for its workers after receiving reports for more than 50 safety violations in the year that preceded the disaster, it can be perceived as a criminal offense. Ultimately, this led to the deaths of more than 29 workers. Unfortunately, the prosecutors find it extremely difficult to convict the firm although stronger measures are being implemented to prevent such misfortunes in the future and in the event that they occur the concerned parties are prosecuted.
For instance, the U.S has come up with massive measures for ensuring that environmental and financial crimes that the companies commit are prevented by implementing liability laws (Manuel 450). These are severe laws that ensure that a company is held responsible for causing damages through omissions and its acts regardless of the caused fault.
Considering that no eyewitnesses survived this accident, there was no witness to testify against the company in regards to what occurred in the mine. Despite happening, the statement maintained by the officials at Massey Energy was that this was caused by an unforeseen and massive inundation of natural gas or methane from a mine floor’s crack. This statement interfered with the pursuit of justice for the mine blast’s victims.
On the other hand, the argument of the mining firm was that it is legally allowed to contest for penalties of what the firm finds unfair. Although the government got into a non-prosecution agreement with this firm and therefore not required to take up responsibility, the victims and their families were clearly denied justice. This is a regrettable act because the victims had family members whose aim was to see their loved ones get justice.
It can be argued that there are no accidents in some companies and that there are preventable and non-preventable accidents in others. The fact that safety measures were grossly violated is enough for the concerned parties and their families to seek justice. However, it was disappointing that this was not what happened.
The illustration of this case is a common flaw regarding the relationship of the employees and corporations. It can evidently be observed that in this case, the management eagerly wanted to make more money instead of taking care of the benefits of the employees. This case study indicates a scenario that clearly portrays the leadership of Massey, including the CEO and the board of directors as not conforming to the construct and laws that require them to ensure a favorable work environment. Such an environment would prevent the situation that caused the accident and deaths.
There were several violations of the safety procedures in the cases where a firm handled important and extensive violations to the necessary levels. This created a room that is required in ensuring that violations are generally reduced to the levels that are considered necessary in compelling their disclosure (Manuel 450).
Therefore, in regards to safety issues this firm made some safety changes that are worth noting in order to restrict the mines entirely from the operations instead of making major changes according to the set guiding principles and laws of the Mine Safety and Health Administration of eliminating potential disasters at the mine.
In emphasizing the point that was mentioned before concerning the violation culture in regards to the established procedures that the firm ought to adopt, Don says in a memo that was sent ordering managers to quit concentrating on time wastage while responding to requests to fix the existing issues despite being necessary. Rather, the memo asked them to concentrate on coal production.
The memo was as follows:
“If any of you have been asked by your group presidents, your supervisors, engineers or anyone else to do anything other than run coal you need to ignore them and run coal. This memo is necessary only because we seem to not understand that coal pays the bills” (Manuel 450)
Clearly, this indicates that the firm’s managers’ inclination was towards coal production instead of showing care for the employees. If the managers of the company would have concentrated on the employees’ welfare and if they were advised by Don to pay more attention to the mine’s safety and miners in terms of operation procedures as set by the Mine Safety and Health Administration safety standards, then the 5th April accident would have been prevented. This would have been contrary to concentrating on coal production only and making profit as the main goal.
The focus of Blankenship was on making more profit instead of focusing on the welfare of the workforce, their relations and neighborhood that surrounded the mine. He was not a caring person and therefore, he violated the rights of the workers by lying to them about the circumstances that they were subjected to in the mine. This caused the disaster (Manuel 450). On the other side, the management has an uncaring nature as indicated by the fact that no person could complain about poor working environment and this played a significant role that led to this accident.
Among the several accepted instruments that any organization employs while trying to instill ethics is the code of ethics. This code is used in the regulatory environments, starting with external regulation’s regimes to obligatory self-regulatory regime. Regardless of the recognition of virtue, there is no substantiation for the actual improvement of ethical standards.
Violations are usually common. Conformity is a major realistic problem. Nevertheless, a perfect scenario of trimming down pressures within corporations can be achieved and this would increase their proceeds regardless of the cost of educating the executives so that they can consider ethics first and then profit. The executive of top-quality business should be strong while engaging in right activities regardless of the outcome of the situation apart from ensuring that the employees are not hurt.
Regardless of the fine that the cords are taken to mean, compliance may not by itself have the expected effect. Successful conformity requires the compliance method to be though-out properly in consideration of the capacities and features that comprise of the code. As pointed out earlier, there were virtues in the company but they were not observed. This was clearly showed by the act of Don of writing the memo ordering the managers to quit concentrating on time wastage while responding to issues that were raised by the employees and instead concentrate on coal production.
The management of the company was just observing the set codes and regulations when they appeared important and when failing to observe them would cause a complete mine closure. The employer-employee relationship was focused on service. The employees were required to respect their employer regardless of the involved cost.
The employers and the workers shared varying virtues that led the miners into fulfilling loyalty by adhering to the requirement of obeying their superiors without paying attention to several violations that occurred at the mine causing a threat to their lives and safety. Workers were muffled and they could not handle their problem directly due to intimidation that they would lose their job. An acknowledge virtue claim that is central to any virtue ethics is that an action is considered right only when the agent has a virtuous character considers it ethical in a similar circumstance.
At the mines, there was an “expectation culture” through which everybody including the managers considered the effects while evaluating an act’s rightness. The management did not at any time balance pain and pleasure. Every person contributed in the accident considering that the employer did not assess the wrongness or rightness of the conditions and actions at the mine. Instead, they went on working under worst conditions in the coal mining’s history.
Massey Energy indicates a sample of firms whose determination is to avoid complying with the rigid standards for a sustained period. A month before the explosion, The United States’ Mine and Health Administration had noted the Upper Big Branch for 50 violations. 12 of these had connections with the ventilation system. Nevertheless, due to understaffing at the administration, the entire mine was not shut down. It was just a part of it that was closed down. This exposed the employees to several health hazards.
Reducing pressure can be possible in a corporation in a perfect world to enhance profit realization at all cost. This entails reminding the executives that they should consider ethics first rather than profit. Leaders in top-notch businesses would insist on engaging on the right activities despite the situation while ensuring that the workers do not suffer any harm. Nevertheless, changing the operations of corporations implies changing how the entire nation does business as well as the culture of the people. This scenario is close to impossible although history shows that there is no effective control of crime in the entire mining industry as well as enforcement of the reforms. Enforcing reforms should not be done after a serious disaster but frequently.
Policy reforms in regulatory agencies as well as the addition of various safety practices can prevent the calamity that occurred in the mine. Minimizing rebelliousness opportunities is possible only when there is a significant regulatory agency with oversight powers as well as devotion to the recognition of the possibility of defiant actions. However, this is only achievable when the existing regulatory systems are reformed.
It is important to avail more resources to the regulatory systems to enhance their competition with corporate counterparts. The agencies ought to be independent of external political pressures. There should also be recent penalties and fines in the systems as well as reconstruction to ensure that guilty corporates are affected.
If the focus of the managers of the company was on the employees’ welfare, the 5th April occurrence would have been avoided. If Don would have advised the managers to concentrate on the safety of the employees at the mines as well as the mines, this would also have been avoided. The move would have been more effective than concentrating on coal production in order to maximize profit.
Massey had been considered as a bad player when it comes to coal mining in community friendly and conscientious way. Different investigations done by the state and the federal safety agencies established that the mines’ management committed several law infringements. These made the management liable for the employees’ deaths.
This case study has a connection with moral issues’ matters. Utilitarian has played a significant role in the analysis of this case because it is applicable to virtually every situation which does not limit the analysis. Most events are questioned due to the belief that its major morality standard is the overall goodness. It is true that the method determines the end results of any action and this justifies it. The results on the other hand can prove that they are exceptionally difficult to predict for any action. This form of ethics is therefore flawed because individuals who cannot predict outcomes of their actions correctly will make several mistakes and even cause damage in the society.
For instance, leadership at Massey that comprises of the Blankenship CEO and the board of directors did not conform to the construct and laws that require appropriate working environment. Appropriate working environment would have ensured that the accident that caused the deaths of the workers did not occur. This is not justified by the necessity of more resources because this is an overriding factor for the regulatory authorities in the field of mining coal.
The act of violating safety procedures alone by failing to ventilate the mines was against the entire utilitarian principle that requires actions to be aimed at ensuring the good of all people. The outcome is that the staff gets a pomposity sense apart from appreciating their activities. It is at this point where it is important to conclude that sustaining the life of a person is important.
During his life, a man has to subsist for self rather than forfeit self to the others or sacrifice the others to achieve personal gain. Going by the principle of the utilitarian rules, it is advisable to do things that include respecting human rights, being honest among others because this will lead to a greater good of most people.
Manuel, G., Velasquez. Business Ethics: Concepts and Cases. 7th. New York: Pearson, 2012.
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