The Banality of Deaths that Occur at Work


Rafael Alcadipani da Silveira e Cintia Rodrigues de Oliveira Medeiros



Research in focus: Living and dying because of work: an analysis of corporate crimes.

Accidents, suicides and other fatal events in organizations result from routine actions taken by supervisors and colleagues in the “noblest sense” of fulfilling their duties

Objective: To analyze organizational crimes using the concept of the banality of evil by jewish sociologist, Hannah Arendt, who witnessed the trial of a nazi, Adolf Eichmann, and noted that he was not a psychopath but an ordinary person - a bureaucrat complying with orders who wanted to advance his carrer.


• Corporate crimes, such as work-related deaths (of which there are over two million cases per year worldwide, according to the WTO), are controversial: who is responsible for deaths that occur when complying with orders coming from a system?

• Newspaper reports of two cases are analyzed: the first considers a cleaner employed by a multinational, Dalkia, who was found dead in a cardboard compacting machine in the loading bay of the West Plaza Shopping Mall in São Paulo; the second, the suicides of professionals working for Renault in France.


• In the first case, news reports indicate that the cleaner was a victim of the irregular alteration of the compactor by employees because it worked faster when it was used without a safety door. In the second case, the reports show that that employees at Renault were under extreme pressure to meet targets – one of the victims left a letter confessing that he felt incapable of doing his work: “it’s very hard to support the pace of the company”, he wrote.

• In both cases, it is possible to draw a parallel with Arendt’s concept of the banality of evil because the deaths were considered ordinary, the results of decisions made to achieve normative objectives, of operational procedures and of organizational cultural standards and norms. Professionals, without apparent perversity but with a high drive to perform their duties, caused these crimes. Such conduct was encouraged by the structure of rules and plans, which made them incapable of criticizing or foreseeing the consequences of their actions; this translates into the banality of evil.

What's new

• Do actions that achieve corporate objectives but lead to worker deaths make corporate crime banal? This article shows that they do because living and dying because of work sounds ordinary.

• This study underlines the existence of the dark side of organizations – one that goes hand-in-hand with the bright side – which can lead to recognition by managers of the need to transform practices to prevent the banality of evil from challenging the thoughts and words of the workers.

Contact the author Rafael Alcadipani da Silveira.  

Learn more about the research conducted by Rafael Alcadipani da Silveira.