ARG-077

The following appeared in a memo from a vice president of a manufacturing company.

"During the past year, workers at our newly opened factory reported 30 percent more on-the-job accidents than workers at nearby Panoply Industries. Panoply produces products very similar to those produced at our factory, but its work shifts are one hour shorter than ours. Experts say that fatigue and sleep deprivation among workers are significant contributing factors in many on-the-job accidents. Panoply's superior safety record can therefore be attributed to its shorter work shifts, which allow its employees to get adequate amounts of rest."


Write a response in which you discuss one or more alternative explanations that could rival the proposed explanation and explain how your explanation(s) can plausibly account for the facts presented in the argument.


In the memo, the vice president describes the coincidence between a higher rate of on-the-job accidents at his/her factory and a shorter work shift at nearby Panoply Industries. The vice president further ascribes the lower number of accidents to the shorter work time. While this might be the case, we cannot easily ignore other explanations which could rival the proposed one endorsed by the vice president.

To begin with, while we could readily attribute the lower rate of on-the-job accidents at Panoply Industries to a higher level of safety, this is not the only explanation. Since we do not know the total number of workers at Panoply, we cannot rule out the possibility that a smaller number of employees at Panoply contribute to its comparatively lower rate of accidents. In addition, we should be cautious of the word “report”, which is highly subjective and relies heavily on the kinds of accidents reported. Therefore, the lower rate of accidents at Panoply could have resulted from Panoply concealing accidents or could be due to different accident-reporting standards. Either of these two explanations, once proves true, could easily compete the one proposed by the vice president.

Even if Panoply is safer than the vice president’s factory, it is hasty to attribute this safety solely to its shorter work shifts. Generally speaking, a safe working environment originates in a variety of factors: well-experienced employees, advanced and easily operated devices, and scrupulous supervision, any of which could exert a positive influence upon the improvement of safety level of working conditions at Panoply. Without further information, we cannot unhesitatingly preclude the possibility that Panoply’s safe environment stems from any of the aforementioned factors, or a combination of these factors. Thereby it is ill-conceived to solely credit Panoply’s safe working conditions to shorter shifts.

Granted that no other factors contribute to the safe environment at Panoply, the causal relationship between shorter work shifts and fewer accidents is open to doubt. In this memo, citing the experts’ words, the vice president implies that in his/her factory, it is the insufficient sleep, which derives from longer work shifts, that leads to fatigue and sleep deprivation among workers and further gives rise to more accidents. However, even if the experts’ words are trustworthy, it is likely that even if the work shifts were shortened, workers at the vice president’s factory would spend the time doing other things rather than sleeping. Consequently they will not be energetic and the high rate of accidents will remain unchanged. Likewise, it is of equal possibility that workers at Panoply do not spend their free time sleeping and accordingly suffer fatigue and sleep deprivation as much as workers in the vice president’s factory do. That is to say, the larger number of accidents in the vice president’s factory could have resulted from workers’ off-work activities. I therefore reserve my approval of the vice president’s claim which attributes the lower rate of accidents to shorter work shifts.

To summarize, while a shorter work shift may plausibly account for a lower rate of on-the-job accidents, I remain open to different explanations that also help to illustrate the facts presented in this argument. Unless the vice president offers clarification, I remain doubtful that his/her explanation is the only possibility.


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