Environmental Health and Safety in Workplace and Community
God's covenant with humanity affirms that God is involved in the healing of individuals (Proverbs 3:7-8) and includes the mandate to protect the community from dangers that threaten the health and safety of the people. At the beginning of Methodism, John Wesley provided medicine and medical treatment at no cost to the poor in London and Bristol. In addition to pioneering free dispensaries in England, Wesley emphasized prevention of illness. In his book Primitive Physic, he dealt with nutrition and hygiene, as well as treatment of the sick. The first Social Creed, adopted by the 1908 General Conference of The Methodist Episcopal Church, declared that workers must be protected "from dangerous machinery, occupational disease, injuries, and mortality," and that working conditions must be regulated to safeguard the physical and moral health of the community. Today as well, the church is called to declare that the health of every individual is part of community health, including safe and healthy conditions in places where people work. The church has a responsibility to pronounce clearly the implications of God's law of love for human health. Where human life and health are at stake, economic gain must not take precedence.
A. Public Health and Safety Hazards
Public health hazards originate from a variety of sources, including organisms (e.g., bacteria, fungi, and viruses), physical conditions (e.g., hazardous machinery, excessive noise, repetitive motion), toxic chemicals, and radiation. Such hazards can produce infectious diseases, disabling injuries, incapacitating illnesses, and death. Toxic substances and related hazards such as ionizing radiation threaten the exposed individual to additional hazards such as cancer and sterility, and they also threaten future generations with birth defects and gene mutations.1
Public health and safety is dependent on effective prevention and active protection before illness or injury have occurred. To fulfill God's commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves, we should support action to protect each individual's health and to preserve the health of the community. To this end, we declare:
1. Every individual, including those with disabilities, has a right to a safe and healthful environment unendangered by a polluted natural world, a hazardous workplace, an unsanitary community, dangerous household products, unsafe drugs, and contaminated food. This human right must take precedence over property rights. Moreover, the necessary preservation of human life and health must not be sacrificed or diminished for economic gain. It is unconscionable that anyone should profit from conditions that lead to the disease, disability, or death of another.
Furthermore, the essential protection of the physical and moral quality of human life must not be compromised by competing considerations of capital investment and return, or diminished by society's insistence on affluence, luxury, and convenience. Environmental health and safety regulations must not be compromised by private property rights or risk-benefit analysis.
2. Public health hazards must be prevented in order to avoid the serious individual and community consequences of injury, illness, and untimely death, including disability, physical pain, mental anguish, lost human potential, family stress, and the diversion of scarce medical resources.
3. Public health hazards to future generations, such as toxic substances and wastes that produce birth defects and gene mutations, must be prevented in order to avoid a legacy of disease, disability, and untimely death. No generation has the right to assume risks that potentially endanger the viability of future life.
4. The public health risks of technological development must be fully researched and openly assessed before new technologies are introduced into the home, the workplace, the community, or the environment. Consumers and workers have the right to know what technologies and substances are used in the workplace, in foods, and other products.
5. The preservation and protection of human life from public and environmental health hazards is a fundamental responsibility of government that must be maintained by active public support and adequate public funds. All levels of government must enforce public and environmental health and safety laws.
6. Preventive health care should be taught in educational institutions to persons in every age group at every level of society. Health professionals in all branches of medicine and public health, and those in related fields, should be encouraged to practice preventive medicine, implementing community preventive health strategies, and assist patients in the adoption of healthy lifestyles. Programs should be implemented that educate and inform consumers and workers about physical, chemical, biological, and radiological hazards of products, services, working conditions, and environmental contaminants.
7. The right to a healthy and safe workplace is a fundamental right. Employers must assume responsibility to eliminate hazards in their workplaces which cause death, injury, and disease and to work together with their employees and employee organizations to achieve this objective.
C. General Recommendations
We call upon all local churches, annual and central conferences, and general boards and agencies of The United Methodist Church to provide for the safety and health of persons in their meeting places and work places; and to educate and to encourage advocacy for public and environmental health and safety in the community as indicated in the declarations above.
ADOPTED 1988, REVISED AND ADOPTED 2000, READOPTED 2008
See Social Principles, ¶ 163C.
1. Estimates of the Fraction of Cancer in the United States Related to Occupational Factors, prepared by the National Cancer Institute, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, mimeographed report, September 14, 1978; page 24. One substance alone, asbestos, is expected to claim the lives of 1.6 million of the 4 million individuals heavily exposed since World War II, including a substantial number of shipyard workers.