Working in the digital future — new study anticipates the safety and health risks that lie ahead
In a new report, EU-OSHA publishes the findings of a major 2-year project to anticipate the effects of digitalisation on occupational safety and health (OSH) in the EU. The final results of this foresight project highlight developments in ICT-enabled technologies, the potential impact of these technologies on the nature and organisation of work, and the challenges and opportunities to OSH that they may bring.
Increased monitoring of workers, 24/7 availability, frequent job changes and the management of work by algorithm can raise levels of workers’ stress. Increased ergonomic risks, caused by human-machine interfaces and the growth in on-line, mobile working are also identified as likely outcomes of augmented digitalisation in the workplace.
Digitalisation and the emergence of new technologies is influencing the nature of jobs and tasks, the sectors and industries that people will work in and even their perception of work. Trends indicate that, by 2025, ICT-enabled technologies will have changed the equipment, tools and systems used to organise, manage and provide products, services and knowledge. The report — Foresight of new and emerging risks to occupational safety and health associated with digitalisation by 2025 — examines the potential impacts of digitalisation: collaborative robotics, artificial intelligence, Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles, bionics, virtual and augmented reality, wearable technology, big data, 3D and 4D printing, and online platforms.
To this end, four scenarios of working life in 2025 were built, taking societal, technological, economic, environmental and political contexts into account. These scenarios consider potential differences in the attitudes of governments and the public to digital developments. They also look at the level of economic growth and the application of new technologies over the next few years. A range of potential impacts that developments in digital technologies could have on OSH are explored to stimulate informed debate on how robust planning and policy-making could shape the future of OSH in a digital world. The scenarios (Evolution, Transformation, Exploitation and Fragmentation) integrate expert information gathered through literature review, telephone interviews, web surveys and workshops.
For instance, the ‘Evolution’ scenario presumes that the pace of economic growth and the application of new technologies will be slow and that there will be a high level of government focus on workers’ rights, social welfare, health and education. In this scenario, OSH risks and their prevention might be better known than in others as new technologies are not rapidly adopted. However, some of these technologies may not be well maintained owing to businesses’ constrained finances.
Challenges and opportunities for OSH are examined for each scenario individually, but issues common to all four scenarios are also identified. Some positive outcomes are anticipated; for instance, people are less likely to work in traditionally hazardous environments thanks to robotics and automation.
However, psychosocial and organisational factors are likely to become more important as digitalised working drives changes such as increased workers monitoring, an assumption of 24/7 availability, more frequent job changes and the management of work and workers by algorithms. All this can raise levels of workers’ stress. Increased ergonomic risks, caused by human-machine interfaces and the growth in online, mobile working, and heightened cyber-security risks are also identified as likely outcomes of augmented digitalisation in the workplace.
Digital technologies also facilitate new forms of employment status, with an increasing numbers of workers treated (rightly or wrongly) as self-employed and who could fall outside existing OSH regulation, which challenges existing mechanisms for managing and regulating OSH.
To meet the challenges anticipated, some possible OSH strategies are proposed, such as advanced workplace risk assessments, using the unpreceded opportunities offered by digital technologies (wearables and Big Data), but also taking the new challenges they bring into account. Furthermore, a proactive worker-centred approach in the planning and implementation of digitalisation strategies and a framework to clarify OSH liabilities and responsibilities in relation to new systems and new ways of working is suggested.
This research is intended to inform EU policy-makers, governments, trade unions and employers on how digitalisation could affect workers’ safety and health in the EU in the long term and support the design of appropriate OSH research, policies and strategies. It advocates a holistic preventive approach to OSH to minimise the negative impact of the emerging challenges on workers, businesses, the economy and society.
- Download the full foresight report on digitalisation and OSH (summary also available)
- Check out our scenario cartoons for a quick glance at how digitalisation could affect the future of OSH
- Find out more about developments in ICT and digitalisation of work
Notes to editor:
- The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) contributes to making Europe a safer, healthier and more productive place to work. The Agency researches, develops, and distributes reliable, balanced, and impartial safety and health information and organises pan-European awareness raising campaigns. Set up by the European Union in 1994 and based in Bilbao, Spain, the Agency brings together representatives from the European Commission, Member State governments, employers’ and workers’ organisations, as well as leading experts in each of the EU-28 Member States and beyond.
- A connected European Digital Single Market that removes regulatory barriers between nations, improves digital infrastructures and enhances digital skills is a key priority for the European Commission. In support of this and in line with the EU Strategic Framework on Safety and Health 2014-2020, this Foresight project was carried out by EU-OSHA in response to the call to ‘anticipate possible negative effects of new technologies and changes in work organisation on workers’ health and safety’. It also backs the principles of the European Pillar of Social Rights, which constitutes the broader policy framework for action in the area of social protection and basic rights and includes the right to fair working conditions.
+34 944 358 359
Corporate Promotions Manager
+34 944 358 357
Manager of the Brussels liaison office
+32 2 401 68 59, +32 0 477 175 770
Latest News from
ACP-EU: Agreement on climate change, migration and post-Cotonou22/11/2019 11:20:00
MEPs and African, Caribbean and Pacific MPs agreed on climate change, migration, sustainable growth and the post-Cotonou agreement.
Future-proofing the European banking market – removing the obstacles to exit21/11/2019 15:10:00
Speech by Yves Mersch, Member of the Executive Board of the ECB and Vice-Chair of the Supervisory Board of the ECB, at the S&P Global’s European Financial Institutions Conference, Paris
Autumn Fiscal Package: EC adopts Opinions on euro area Draft Budgetary Plans21/11/2019 13:20:00
The EC has presented its Opinions on euro area Member States' 2020 Draft Budgetary Plans, taken steps under the Stability and Growth Pact and adopted the fourth Enhanced Surveillance Report for Greece.
Raw materials: EC launches new online portal to support responsible sourcing in businesses21/11/2019 11:10:00
The EC has launched Due Diligence Ready!, an online portal that provides businesses with guidance on how to check the sources of the metals and minerals entering their supply chains – the so-called “due diligence” process.
More than half a million asylum applications lodged in the EU+ so far in 201921/11/2019 10:02:00
The proportion of applications receiving a positive decision (known as "recognition rate") so far this year was 34%, compared to 33% in the first nine months of 2018.
EU and the Paris agreement: towards climate neutrality20/11/2019 15:10:00
The EU will need to update its long-term climate goals in 2020. Parliament wants more ambitious goals, but will EU countries agree to aim for climate neutrality by 2050?
Oceans and seas threatened by climate change: Council adopts conclusions20/11/2019 13:20:00
The Council Hs adopted conclusions on oceans and seas, stressing that climate change is a direct and existential threat to life in oceans and seas globally.
Textiles EU's fourth largest cause of environmental pressures after food, housing, transport20/11/2019 12:10:00
Consumption of clothing, footwear and household textiles in the EU uses annually about 1.3 tonnes of raw materials and more than 100 cubic metres of water per person, according to a European Environment Agency briefing.
Chambers & Regions said a collective effort is needed to boost uptake of EU FTAs20/11/2019 11:25:00
EUROCHAMBRES and the European Committee of the Regions have conducted the joint survey over the past months, with an objective to identify opportunities and obstacles faced in the implementation of EU FTAs.
Rapid risk assessment - Sexual transmission of dengue in Spain20/11/2019 09:10:00
Spanish authorities have reported the likely sexual transmission of dengue between two men. This is the first case of dengue described in an area without the presence of vector mosquitoes that has been attributed to sexual transmission, and the first sexual transmission described between men who have sex with men (MSM).