A European workforce fit for the digital age

Keeping Europe’s workers safe and healthy is the key to success in the digital age, explains Christa Sedlatschek.
Christa Sedlatschek | Photo credit: EU-OSHA

By Christa Sedlatschek

17 Mar 2020

Digital technologies are transforming the way we live and work. At the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA), we welcome the tremendous opportunities this offers Europe’s economy and society.

We fully support the Commission’s ‘Europe Fit for a Digital Age’ programme to make digitalisation a key EU priority. But to maximise the opportunities that digital technologies offer businesses, it is essential that we anticipate and manage risks to minimise any negative impact on workers.

Our goal is to provide policymakers and workplaces with reliable information, so they can realise the full benefits of digital innovation, while ensuring that workers are protected.

Digitalisation presents new challenges for occupational safety and health, resulting from changes to the nature and location of work, who works and when, and how work is organised and managed.

Advanced robotics, for example, offers enormous potential to boost productivity and meet growing demand, but higher performance expectations, constant worker monitoring and reduced person-to-person contact could increase work-related stress and damage mental health.

Mobile technologies meanwhile allow workers and businesses more flexibility, but could result in demand for permanent availability and irregular working hours.

There are also new ergonomic risks and safety implications, including cybersecurity and the impact on functional safety associated with digital technologies, as well as challenges related to implementing safety and health regulations in new, atypical forms of work.

Our recent foresight study explores the potential risks associated with digitalisation and identifies key trends and drivers of change. And now through a new three-year research programme, we aim to understand the full impact of digitalisation on occupational safety and health.

We will also analyse existing policies to identify effective ways of keeping workers safe and healthy. Our Healthy Workplaces Campaign dedicated to this topic - set to launch in 2023 - will provide a wealth of relevant, practical resources and good practices.

If well managed, digital technologies can reduce safety and health risks, and improve working conditions. However, achieving this depends on how technologies are designed, implemented, managed and regulated in the context of workforce characteristics and organisational factors.

We support the development of an ethical framework for digitalisation and proper governance. A ‘prevention through design’ approach that considers human factors and worker-centred design is imperative, as are education and training, and worker involvement in the design and implementation of any new technologies. 

Collaboration is key and we look forward to working with our stakeholders and partners in finding solutions to the challenges we face.

We are teaming up with Eurofound, the European Training Foundation, the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training and the European Labour Authority to raise awareness of the opportunities and risks of online platform work at the European Parliament in a near future.

It is vital that we work together towards achieving a smart, sustainable, productive and inclusive economy that guarantees safe and healthy working environments for all in the digital age.

Read the most recent articles written by Christa Sedlatschek - Stop the pandemic: an action plan for healthy workplaces

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