Constantly changing conditions have a significant influence on safety and health at work.

SJS – 05/2019

On World Day for Safety and Health at Work, the International Labour Organization (ILO) released the study ‘Safety and Health at the Heart of the Future of Work’. It looks at the future of occupational safety and health and discusses the effects of new technologies, demographic change, environmental developments and new types of work organisation on employees.

Absenteeism has an impact on the economy

According to the report, almost 3 million workers worldwide die every year as a result of workplace accidents or occupational diseases. In total, some 370 million people become ill or have an accident at work each year. The report estimates that lost work days due to health and safety problems account for nearly 4% of global GDP, and in some countries this figure is as high as 6% of national GDP.

Worldwide, there is an increase in psychosocial risks, work-related stress and noncommunicable diseases such as circulatory and respiratory diseases and cancer. The reasons for this include temporary work contracts, increasing demands for flexibility in working hours and the increased use of technologies to monitor employees.

Pros and cons of the new world of work

According to the ILO, smart technologies can help to improve the working conditions of employees; for example, by detecting fatigue at an early stage or monitoring environmental factors such as air quality. However, they could also lead to a perceived loss of autonomy. New opportunities for workers, such as home-based work, can be practical, but they also carry risks that are often underestimated. These include the danger of social isolation or poorer work-life balance.

Looking at the future, the report highlights important trends that represent opportunities and challenges. Digitalisation, robotics and nanotechnology, if properly used, could help to reduce the number of accidents and make it easier to conduct training and labour inspections. Climate change could trigger sustainable development and lead to a shift towards a green economy with new forms of work. Finally, changes in work organisation could bring the necessary flexibility to enable more people to enter the labour market.

Shaping the future

In order to ensure that opportunities outweigh challenges in the future, it is important for policy makers and interest groups to focus on the risks so that international labour standards and national legislation are strengthened. There also needs to be better public understanding of OSH issues.