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Digitalisation and OSH

IOSH policy position

New and emerging technologies are being introduced into workplaces around the world. While there is potential to use them to enhance occupational safety and health (OSH) standards, some may create new risks. Here is IOSH’s view on it.

What’s the issue?

Wide-ranging digital technologies being deployed across various industries bring risks and opportunities for businesses, workers and OSH.

While some technologies could reduce or better manage OSH risks, such as automation or robotics taking over dirty, dangerous, and demeaning jobs, others could create new risks or exacerbate existing ones, not least because the very context of work is altered dramatically for many workers.

It is also important to note that there are billions of people worldwide who have never accessed the internet, so there is a digital divide.

How do we see it?

Such technologies can make work safer, healthier and more efficient through preventing people from doing hazardous work, sophisticatedly monitoring health and safety, and facilitating informed decision-making and learning through vast amounts of data and intelligence.

Businesses must ensure health and safety is considered within the design and implementation stages, along with worker participation, as such new technologies can introduce new complex and unprecedented risks. This is because rapid and unchecked technology adoption in working environments can pose a real risk to workers and to well-established workers’ rights, particularly for those in higher vulnerability groups such as migrant or low-skilled workers.

Current OSH regulations might not adequately address the evolving and emerging risks, so we support the development of fit-for-purpose legislation and the periodic review for updated and adaptable regulatory frameworks. OSH professionals together with other people-related and legal professions need to have presence in the debate on this.

  • Take a proactive approach on laws and regulation to ensure new technologies do not negatively impact worker rights and protections.
  • Review and/or update existing OSH legislative frameworks to respond to the new realities of the digital age.
  • Step up efforts to ensure the right provision of OSH through legislative measures, technological safeguards, and collaborative efforts.
  • While introducing new technology, provide workers with sustained means of support and communication and cater for their learning needs and concerns.
  • Ensure worker involvement in decision-making processes related to digitalisation.
  • Engage in inclusive and transparent strategies for implementing new technologies in the workplace rather than incurring in a top-down approach.
  • Proactively upskill future OSH professionals. For example, providing the ability to pilot emerging technology, ‘soft’ skills, data analytics and ethical decision making.
  • Facilitate internal reporting mechanisms and encourage worker involvement and input in any negative impacts of new technologies on work.
  • Promote a sound ‘prevention through design’ approach that mitigates against any unintended consequences of new technologies.
  • Take part in interdisciplinary initiatives among technology and data specialists, human resources professionals and legal compliance professionals to develop solutions which support users of new technologies.
  • Keep up to date on topics including the impact of big data, machine learning techniques and AI technologies and their implications on workers.
  • Ensure that technological systems are designed in an inclusive manner to prevent discrimination, physical and mental health issues.
  • Engage with frontline workers and end users in the design of digitalised systems and applications through in-depth risk assessments.

This policy position represents IOSH's view as of April 2024 based on the best evidence available to us. We will review it periodically and reserve the right to change and update it drawing on new information.