Digitalization of the world of work, or "Work 4.0", places new demands upon occupational safety and health. Networking, reachability, monitoring by computers and information technologies, and the closely linked intensification of work, are topics that will present a growing challenge for the prevention activity of the German Social Accident Insurance Institutions in the coming years. The IFA, too, is conducting research, testing and consulting in relation to specific issues resulting from the digital transformation.
Digitalization impacts upon the safety, health and well-being of workers in numerous different ways. The digital transformation encompasses not only production, but all areas of industry, from development, through planning, to management. Digitalization promotes mobility and flexibility, and makes work possible almost anywhere: at the workplace, at home, on the commute, or en route to the next appointment.
At the same time, innovative manufacturing techniques and working methods can give rise to new accident risks, for example where human beings and robots work alongside each other without protective fences, or where a plethora of screens increases the stream of information to a flood. By the same token, new processes such as nanotechnology give rise to exposure to hazardous substances not encountered in the past. Increasing networking, whether of production systems or of workplaces in general, is accompanied by an elevated risk of data hacking and manipulation. Digitalization replaces manual tasks and promotes physical inactivity at the workplace, imbalanced physical and mental stresses, or combinations of the two. Digital media and working methods increase the requirements to be met by the content and methods of training, and also entail a greater willingness to embrace lifelong learning. Finally, digital technology creates completely new forms of work, such as crowdworking and clickworking, which raise the fundamental question of how preventive activity may address them effectively.
The digital transformation presents potential risks to workers, but at the same time also provides scope for work to be made safer, healthier, more flexible and more integrative in the future. Possibilities range from smart safety technology, new man-machine interfaces and virtual engineering, through head-mounted displays and assistive systems for the aged, to digital training aids.
Prevention-oriented research has a key role to play in the design of safe, healthy and humane working environments for tomorrow.
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