Case Study – EU OSHA
The EU’s health and safety agency (EU-OSHA) wanted to look at how increasing digitalisation of work might create new and emerging occupational safety and health risks by 2025. Artificial intelligence, collaborative robots, virtual and augmented reality, online platforms and other innovations are set to change the ways that people work. People are less likely to work in traditional hazardous environments thanks to robotics and automation, while work-related stress and ergonomic risks are likely to be on the increase as a result of trends such as new forms of human-machine interfaces, increased online and mobile work, workers’ monitoring and management by algorithms, blurred boundaries between work and private life or more frequent job changes.
Working with the British Health and Safety Executive (HSE), SAMI guided EU-OSHA through a broad-scale scenario process to help them explore policy options.
In the first stage of the project, SAMI used its proprietary “7 Questions” model to interview experts in the field of digital technology and in health and safety. This was supplemented by an horizon scanning exercise to identify many drivers of change. Then in an initial workshop with EU-OSHA, these drivers were boiled down to two key issues which were then used to create a scenario cross.
The first issue was “Governance and Public/Workers’ attitudes”. At one extreme there could be a low trust environment, with protectionism, bullying and exploitation; at the other a mutually supportive and ethical supportive society. The second issue was “Economic Growth and Application of Technology” which had as its poles low GDP growth, limited application of technology; and high growth, radical change in employment caused by AI etc.
The four scenarios generated were radically different – and so had different health and safety implications. The high trust/high growth scenario “Transformation” had rapid loss of traditional jobs, and the creation of new ones, but with an awareness of the need for health and safety. The high level of change brought its challenges, and the supportive environment brought some risks of “red tape”.
The low trust/low growth scenario on the other hand was characterised by a growth in the gig and grey economies, with diminishing capability of regulators to enforce health and safety regulations.
SAMI and HSE helped EU-OSHA present these scenarios in different countries, and supported the exploration of robust policies using a “wind-tunnelling” technique.
The final results of EU-OSHA’s foresight project on the increasing digitalisation of work and the associated challenges for occupational safety and health (OSH) are now available in a new report. EU-OSHA continue to develop policy recommendations based on this work.