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Is Industry 4.0 good for your health?

16 August 2018

There’s no doubt that the increased automation which comes about with Industry 4.0 is well and truly on the radar in the manufacturing sector. And with increased automation comes the need to develop health and safety strategies accordingly.

At the XXI World Congress on Safety and Health in Singapore, Secretary General of the International Social Security Association (ISSA), Hans-Horst Konkolewsky, asked a large audience of international safety practitioners whether the 4th industrial revolution will be good or bad for worker’s health and safety. Overwhelmingly the answer that came back was that yes, ultimately the changing world of work will be good for our health and wellbeing. However, there are also many challenges to navigate, and while regular readers will probably be well versed in the physical health and safety challenges thrown up by automation, they are less likely to have considered the potential risks to people’s mental well being.

Research by IPPR says that 10 million jobs are at risk from automation in the UK – something that is bound to play on people’s minds. When health and safety practitioners were asked about future risks of work, the health advantages of automating certain hazardous processes (for example the increasing use of automated riveting or 3D printing) – and by implication the removal of people - were uppermost in their minds, along with modern, flexible ways of working where people are adding specific value to automated processes.

However, it's not all so positive. A likely development is that people and intelligent machines will increasingly become ‘colleagues’ in the future, glimpses of which can already been seen in the proliferation of collaborative robots to hit the mark in recent years. As the British Safety Council points out, a colleague who can work without breaks, who is always ‘on,’ who isn’t going to share much ‘social’ information, is a very different colleague; a relationship that could easily create stress and undermine well being.

We also know that people at work derive important health benefits from the social nature of work and this will be an issue to address in the future. Evidence also tells us that the health benefits of ‘good’ work, whether we define this in terms of good employment practices, reward and recognition or fulfilling jobs, can be either enhanced or undermined by disruptive technologies, asserts the British Safety Council.

 
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