Although Western industrialized nations have already accomplished a great deal in occupational safety and health, this doesn’t mean that there are no more challenges. Safety and health at work in the years to come will be marked by ageing workforces, a world of work undergoing constant change and, more importantly, rapid developments in technology accompanied by further improvements in the methods of the supervisory authorities.
“Work has become much safer in the last 100 years” – but this was not the end of the story for Dr Cameron Mustard of the Institute for Work & Health in Toronto in his Keynote Speech at the XX World Congress. For we have to continue to build on the progress already made, he argued.
A changing world
“Globalization has created opportunities for growth and brought about change,” the speaker explained. We have to respond to these changed circumstances. The fact that the change in working conditions has been made possible largely by technical media is not new. So any mention of change inevitably refers to the new media. “Unlike many, I can still recall a world of work without computers,” Mustard reported. “The sheer pace is disturbing – because machines are not only replacing people, but they are also radically transforming their work processes,” the expert continued.
These technologies can also be put to excellent use by the authorities. There are roughly 200,000 labour inspectors in the European Union alone. The supervisory authorities in the EU have long departed from their methods considered in many cases obstructive. Smaller enterprises would benefit more from these improvements, he added.
The authorities can also put these technologies to good use. There are roughly 200,000 labour inspectors in the European Union alone. The supervisory authorities of the EU have long departed from methods considered in some cases obstructive. Smaller enterprises would benefit more from these improvements, he added.
Ultimately we have to bear in mind that even if the number of specific injuries has fallen in the developed countries, up to 15 per cent of asthma cases and up to 12 per cent of instances of coronary heart disease are still attributable to the working environment. Diabetes, back problems and high blood pressure are also regularly associated with work. This applies above all to employees aged 40+, far too many of whom are forced into premature retirement.
Older employees, who bear the brunt of change and health problems, are important precisely because they have so much experience. “We have to offset the limitations of less productive older workers – by reducing their working hours, for instance. It is up to governments to find solutions here,” the expert demanded. A perfect workplace of the future must take greater account of the needs of older workforces. Presenter Karl-Josef Thielen agreed with him, closing the session with an appeal: ‘”We have to get involved to sustain the momentum of developments in society.”
Text: Andrea Kramer