Charting the Future Course for Corporate Management of Genetic and Other Health Risks

  • Michael S. Baram


Corporations engage in technological activities of benefit to society and thereby also create new health risks for workers, consumers, and communities. Government regulatory agencies deal with this chronic problem by conducting risk analyses and imposing various duties on private firms. Despite agency efforts and corporate compliance, health risks continue to arise and to take their toll. To what extent will private firms voluntarily assume greater responsibility for preventing these risks? This question is of increasing social importance because the limitations of regulatory efforts are now obvious, whereas health risks are now being identified at what appears to be an increasing rate. This question is also of considerable importance to industry because of the economic impact on private firms of toxic tort actions, workers’ compensation claims, and other “losses” that follow from the health risks.


Corporate Social Responsibility Private Firm Health Risk Assessment Corporate Management Sickle Cell Trait 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

References and Notes

  1. 1.
    Friedman, M., Capitalism and Freedom ,University of Chicago Press, Chicago (1962), 133–6.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Dahl, R., A prelude to corporate reform, in Corporate Social Policy (R. Heilbroner and P. London, eds.), Addison-Wesley, Lexington, MA (1975), 18–19.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    See generally, Herman, E., Corporate Control, Corporate Power ,Cambridge University Press, New York (1981), 242–301.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    See Freeman, A., Industry Response to Health Risk ,Rpt. 811, the Conference Board (1981).Google Scholar
  5. 5.
  6. 6.
    See Ch. 2,“Corporate Social Responsibility,” in Ethical Theory and Business (T. Beauchamp and N. Bowie, eds.), Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Executive Orders 12044 and 12291 have imposed cost-benefit analysis as the ultimate decision framework for regulatory rule-making and have provided special ex parte procedures, which industry has used to influence the Office of Management and Budget and the agencies. See Green, M., and Waitzman, N., Business War against the Law ,Corporate Accountability Research Group, Washington, D.C. (1981)Google Scholar
  8. Baram, M., Federal Regulation of Health, Safety and Environmental Quality and the Use of Cost-Benefit Analysis ,Report to Administrative Conference of the United States, Washington, D.C. (1979), with Recommendations (79–4).Google Scholar
  9. 8.
    Courts in New Jersey, for example, have adopted all of these reforms to reduce barriers to recovery by litigants in cases involving toxic torts. See, for example, Ayers v. Jackson Township ,19 ERC 24, L-5808–80 (Dec. 2, 1983). Also, see Report of Proceedings on Toxic Torts ,American Bar Association Standing Committee on Environmental Law, published in Environmental Law Reporter ,V. XIV, n.3, p. 100098, et seq.Google Scholar
  10. 9.
    ABA Report, Id.Google Scholar
  11. 10.
    Prosser, W., Handbook of the Law of Torts (4th ed.), West Pub. Co., St. Paul, MN (1971); and Toxic Substances Litigation, Practising Law Institute, New York (1983).Google Scholar
  12. 10a.
    See, for example, Buswell, H., The Civil Liability for Personal Injuries Arising out of Negligence (2d ed.), Little, Brown, Boston, MA (1899);Google Scholar
  13. 11.
    See Borel v. Fibreboard Paper Products Corp. ,493 F.2d 1076 (th Cir. 1973), in which the court established a “manufacturer’s status as expert,” with duties “to keep abreast of scientific knowledge [and] to test and inspect his product.”Google Scholar
  14. 12.
    Federal Register ,48:53280 (Nov. 25, 1983).Google Scholar
  15. 13.
    See Baram, M., The right to know and the duty to disclose hazard information, American Journal of Public Health 74:385 (Apr. 1984).PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 14.
    For example, manufacturers of hazardous chemicals who comply with the OSHA rule stand on uncertain ground, as “downstream” industries that purchase their products and inform workers of health hazards may still experience occupational diseases. Given the inadequacies of workers’ compensation, the injured employees of such downstream firms may resort to product liability law to sue the original manufacturer on the grounds that it failed to adequately inform the downstream firms or failed to monitor the adequacy of how the downstream firms actually implemented the OSHA rule to protect workers. Also, see Restate ment of Torts ,Sections 413 and 416.Google Scholar
  17. 15.
    See, e.g., Beshada v. John Manville Corp. ,90 N.J. 191 (1982); Comment, Product liability reform proposals: The state of the art defense, Alb. L. Rev. 43:941 (1979).Google Scholar
  18. 16.
    As demonstrated in litigation against the Johns-Manville Corporation, in which international breach of the duty to warn has been repeatedly argued. Also, see Silkwood v. Kerr McGee ,104 S.Ct. 615 (1984), for example, discussed in Annas, G. J. The case of Karen Silkwood, American J. Public Health 74:516 (1984).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. 17.
    Risk Assessment Techniques ,(1st ed.), Defense Systems Management College, Fort Belvoir, VA (July 1983).Google Scholar
  20. 18.
  21. 19.
    See, generally, House, P., and Shull, R., Rush to Policy: Using Analytic Techniques in Public Sector Decision Making ,U.S. National Science Foundation (draft) (1984), for analysis of public agency uses of risk assessment.Google Scholar
  22. 20.
    The name of the game, Environmental Science and Technology ,18(2):394 (Feb. 1984); editorial by D. Rosenblatt, U.S. Army Medical Bioengineering Research and Development Laboratory, Fort Detrick, MD.Google Scholar
  23. 21.
    Richards, E., and Silvers, A., Risk management theory: Reducing liability in corporate and medical environments, Houston L. Rev. 19:251 (1982). Long-term costs arising from collective bargaining of health provisions, like rising insurance costs, can be estimated. See, for example, Basic patterns in safety and health provisions in collective bargaining agreements, OSH Rptr. ,BNA, Inc. (May 19, 1983), 1092.Google Scholar
  24. 22.
  25. 23.
    See Wright v. Olin Corp. ,697 F.2d 1172 (4th Cir. 1982); Rothstein, J., Employee selection based on susceptibility to occupational illness, Mich. L. Rev. 81:1379 (1983). Also, see Mass. G.L., Ch. 533 of Acts of 1983, which limits preemployment inquiries.Google Scholar
  26. 24.
    Silbergeld, A., Wrongful discharge and the “at-will” employee, National Law Journal (May 21, 1984), 14; and (Aug. 29, 1983), 20.Google Scholar
  27. 25.
    29 CFR Part 1910.20; and Part 1904; also, see 42 CFR 85.3(b)(5).Google Scholar
  28. 26.
    D. Ozonoff, Roles for Genetic Screening and Biological Monitoring ,unpublished report (Oct. 1983), Boston University Medical School. Genetic predispositions to heart disease, hypertension, and schizophrenia have also been suggested by various researchers.Google Scholar
  29. 27.
    The Role of Genetic Testing in the Prevention of Occupational Diseases ,U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment (1983), 33–40.Google Scholar
  30. 28.
  31. 29.
    Severo, R., Screening of blacks by DuPont sharpens debate on gene test, New York Times (Feb. 4, 1980).Google Scholar
  32. 30.
    Air force challenged on sickle cell trait, Science 211:257 (1981).Google Scholar
  33. 31.
    Rothstein, M., Medical Screening of Workers ,BNA, Inc. (1984), 77.Google Scholar
  34. 32.
    Wright v. Olin ,697 F.2d 1172 (4th Cir.); Hayes v. Shelby Memorial Hospital ,N. 82–7296 52 U.S.L.W. 2560 (March 16, 1984).Google Scholar
  35. 33.
    Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Intl Union v. American Cyanamid ,N. 81–1687 (D.C. Cir.) (Aug. 24, 1984).Google Scholar
  36. 34.
    New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut have recently legislated on various aspects of these problems.Google Scholar
  37. 35.
    See, Baram, M., and Field, R., Screening and monitoring data as evidence in legal proceedings, presented at NIOSH Conference on Medical Screening and Biological Monitoring for the Effects of Exposure in the Workplace ,Cincinnati, Ohio (July 12, 1984).Google Scholar
  38. 36.
    See the three reports of the Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight, Committee on Science and Technology, U.S. House of Representatives; e.g., Genetic Screening in the Workplace (Oct. 6, 1982).Google Scholar
  39. 37.
    See Baron, F., Piercing the compensation veil: Third party remedies for job-related injuries, Occupational Disease Litigation ,Practising Law Institute, New York (1983), 78-80; and state court decisions such as Okerblom v. Baskies ,Massachusetts Superior Court, Middlesex County, No. 74-2570 (March 8, 1983), involving a malpractice claim by employee and family against a company psychiatrist and social worker. Also, see Legal and Professional Liability of Industrial Hygienists Employed by Insurance Companies, J. Biancheri, CNA Insurance Co., presented at the American Industrial Hygiene Conference, Detroit, Michigan (May 24, 1984).Google Scholar
  40. 38.
    In the design of such testing programs, some firms set forth certain criteria to minimize legal problems for medical and hygiene personnel. These include criteria that the program be designed to meet all legal requirements, to have substantial value to employees, to be consistent with the state of scientific and medical knowledge, to be cost-effective and manageable, and to be amenable to computerization. Personal communication, Robert Wheaton, Digital Equipment Corporation, April 1984.Google Scholar
  41. 39.
    Walsh, D., Strategic Planning for Corporate Health ,Health Policy Research Institute, Boston University (1984).Google Scholar
  42. 40.
    Cook, R., et al. ,Dow Chemical Co., Epidemiology in Industry ,paper presented at AIHC, Detroit, Michigan (May 23, 1984).Google Scholar
  43. 41.
    Some of these initiatives are discussed in Freeman, supra ,note 5. Also, see materials in Baram, M., Corporate Management of Health Risks ,(1983), course materials used at Boston University Schools of Law and Public Health.Google Scholar
  44. 42.
    Annual cost savings of $2.75 billion provide incentive for safety, meeting told, OSH Rptr. ,BNA, Inc. (May 31, 1984).Google Scholar
  45. 43.
    New health protection procedure described by Shell official at AIHC, OSH Rptr. ,BNA, Inc. (May 24, 1984), 1343.Google Scholar
  46. 44.
    Minter, S., Oil major’s program targets changing needs, Occupational Hazards (May 1984), 63.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Aubrey Milunsky and George J. Annas 1985

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael S. Baram
    • 1
  1. 1.Boston University School of Public HealthBostonUSA

Personalised recommendations