Eddington, Ian (2006) An historical explanation of the development of occupational health and safety and the important position it now occupies in society. In: AEC 2006: Queensland Safety Forum, 21-23 Jun 2006, Brisbane, Australia.
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Scientific and social (economic and ethical) dimensions of occupational health and safety (OH&S) are discussed. Three broad stages in the development of ethics in Western society are analysed in order to assist in understanding the arrival of moral relativism and constructivism under postmodernism. Against this background three recent stages in the emergence of OH&S are outlined and OH&S is shown to be of key importance to sustainable development. Comment is made about the prospects for survival, under moral relativism, of the duty of care ethic which lies at the heart of OH&S and which has until the present time catalysed professionally responsible innovation and change. It is argued that (1) because OH&S tools and techniques called up in legislation are scientific in nature and apply equally to all under law, and (2) because OH&S is increasingly understood as a profitability strategy, ongoing duty of care appeals for reform may continue to be effective even against the corrosive malaise of moral relativism. OH&S workers are reminded of the contribution their profession can make to safe and civil society and to sustainable development and their responsibility for upholding and promoting the ethical dimension expressed through duty of care.
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