The report was published by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) in May and presents the findings from the first work package of the project “‘Foresight on new and emerging occupational safety and health risks associated with information and communication technologies and work location by 2025”.
The project consists of three work packages. The goal of Work Package 1 is to identify the most important trends and drivers of change in information and communication technologies (ICT) and work location. The goal of the Work Package 2 is to use the trends identified in Work Package 1 in order to develop and test scenarios of the future; the aim of this is to help decision-makers to take into consideration future effects on safety and health in the workplace. The goal of the last work package is to disseminate the scenarios that have been developed to policy-makers and other interested parties.
The first work package was conducted in three phases. The first phase consisted of a review of existing information to identify trends and drivers of change up to 2025 and, if possible, for another five years. The second phase was a consolidation of the list of trends and drivers of change by consulting with a number of experts. The last phase involved identifying the most important trends and drivers.
The report already provides a preliminary indication of the potential impact of the identified trends and drivers on occupational safety and health; these will be examined in more depth as part of the scenarios in Work Package 2. These factors, ranging from demographic change through to technological innovations, will be decisive for the OSH challenges that Europe must face in 2025 in the wake of the digitalisation of the world of work.
Examples of some of the benefits of digitalisation include the removal of humans from dangerous environments and new opportunities for disseminating good OSH practice. The risks named in the report are mainly psychosocial, for example, the emotional and cognitive strain associated with the 24/7 economy, permanent connectivity, and the loss of traditional working hierarchies and social interaction in the workplace. The report also discusses ergonomic risks related to increased usage of mobile devices and new human-machine interfaces. Other aspects include work-related stress, bullying, discrimination and concerns of whether new forms of work are able to provide workers with a wage that is sufficient to cover their living costs.
A major challenge for the application of employment and social security legislation is also seen in changes to forms of employment relationships and in more flexible working conditions. Due to the fact that work can be done practically anywhere and at any time, it is expected that traditional employer-employee relationships will change fundamentally. The nature of work will change significantly across all of Europe and this will have an effect on most people in one way or another. There will be potential to create new business opportunities which can stimulate increased productivity and growth in Europe; however, these could also result in inequality in the benefits and disadvantages for different workers.
Priorities for OSH tomorrow
The German Social Accident Insurance (DGUV) has concerned itself, at national level, with the digitalisation of the world of work for some time now. Digitalisation involves both opportunities and risks for workers, as well as implications for prevention work. The DGUV has addressed these issues in a brochure “New Forms of Work. New Forms of Prevention. Work 4.0: Opportunities and Challenges”.
The early detection of trends and the monitoring of possible consequences for safety and health in the workplace play an important role. This is a key part of the work done by the DGUV Risk Observatory at the Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (IFA). In a wide-scale survey, the IFA investigated which trends in the world of work will play a key role in the future and this delivered similar findings. The most urgent issues for OSH are work intensification, demographic change and digitalisation. The findings are available in the brochure “It’s all about people: Priorities for tomorrow’s occupational safety and health”