Digitization, robotics and artificial intelligence will change the way we work in the next 10 years. They will significantly and quickly affect the nature and organization of work throughout Europe, as well as contribute to the creation of new forms of work and changes in employment status. The resulting business opportunities, including increased productivity and economic growth, may, however, be associated with growing inequalities in terms of employee burden and distribution of benefits derived from this growth. Significant reduction of the number of jobs requiring medium qualifications as well as a noticeable increase in the number of jobs requiring higher qualifications are possible – which will be associated with the risk of so-called "Race to the bottom" in terms of employment standards. It is estimated that the future will bring not only benefits, but also challenges related to automation – thanks to it, man will be separated from hazardous environments, but it will in itself carry new threats, such as increased risk resulting from new forms of human-machine interaction or accidents at work as a result of a lack of understanding and control over a given work process or excessive trust in the infallibility of artificial intelligence.
The emergence of new technologies such as artificial intelligence, large data sets, cloud computing, team robotics, augmented reality, additive processing and online platforms has a huge impact on the world of work. Although their prevalence and frequency of use are currently diverse across Europe and in different sectors and socioeconomic groups, information and communication technologies are becoming an integral part of almost all sectors, not the sector in itself.
Digital single market is one of the key priorities of the European Commission. Technologies are spreading much faster than in the past, prompting the description of the changes taking place as the "fourth industrial revolution". It is predicted that it will fundamentally change where we work, how we work, who will work and how people perceive work. Significant changes will occur in the nature of work and the division of jobs between sectors. The workforce will be more diverse and dispersed, its representatives will often change jobs and work online rather than stationary. Even those professions whose representatives will not be replaced by robots will change significantly – employees will use a wide range of digital technologies, work and cooperate with them.
All this will mean both challenges and opportunities, including in the field of occupational safety.
To better anticipate potential future work-related hazards and to shape healthier and safer workplaces, the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) identifies challenges arising as a result of changes in the area of work in its forecasting projects. One of them developed 4 scenarios for the future that allow identifying new and emerging challenges in the area of work safety related to the way in which information and communication technologies can change, among others, automated systems, work equipment and tools, ways of organizing work and its management as well as knowledge and information required to perform a given job.
The forecasts indicate the following changes and phenomena:
Understanding these future challenges is important for making decisions about shaping and providing safer and healthier jobs. It is also important to stimulate discussions covering multidisciplinary perspectives on actions that can be taken today to influence what will happen in the future. Recommended actions include:
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