Health and safety in the workplace of the future

16.10.2019

Dr Richard Graveling, Principal Ergonomist at IOM, has co-authored a briefing paper requested by the EMPL Committee (European Parliament). IOM Researcher Dr Eva Giagloglou contributed to this publication that reflects some of the expected issues in the workplaces of the future.

Technological processes driving new ways of organising and delivering work, such as the rise in bogus self-employment, “zero-hours”/non-guaranteed minimum hours (“NGMH”) work contracts, “gig” economy, “platform” work, “on-demand” work and telework in the EU are significant insofar as such workers are not always covered by existing European Union health and safety legislation (“H&S acquis”). Many of the 24 occupational health and safety (“OSH”) Directives and the Working Time Directive only cover “workers”, and exclude the bogus self-employed or individuals providing services and labour on the basis of other personal work contracts.

If scientific research were to indicate the need for legislation to address psychosocial risks in the workplace, the potential for physical collisions in “shared” workplaces and/or MSDs which are attributable to such new technologies and patterns of work, there ought to be further exploration of new legislation or alternatively, amendment of the H&S Framework Directive to clarify that the obligations of employers include the mitigation of these risks.

Consideration should be given to amending the H&S acquis to extend health and safety protection in the EU beyond the category of “worker” to the bogus self-employed, “zero-hours”/NGMH workers, “gig” economy, “platform” work and “on-demand” workers and teleworkers.  

The full text of the briefing is available here.

KEY FINDINGS

The prevalence of the following health and safety risks attributable to new technologies and patterns of work are currently under-researched: (1) psychosocial risks in the workplace; (2) physical collisions in confined spaces where “collaborative” and “professional service” robots (known as “cobots”) and workers are engaged in shared tasks, i.e. “shared workplaces”; and (3) musculoskeletal disorders (“MSDs”). As such, consideration should be given to commissioning extensive research on the prevalence of such risks.

Technological processes driving new ways of organising and delivering work, such as the rise in bogus self-employment, “zero-hours”/non-guaranteed minimum hours (“NGMH”) work contracts, “gig” economy, “platform” work, “on-demand” work and telework in the EU are significant insofar as such workers are not always covered by existing European Union health and safety legislation (“H&S acquis”). Many of the 24 occupational health and safety (“OSH”) Directives and the Working Time Directive only cover “workers”, and exclude the bogus self-employed or individuals providing services and labour on the basis of other personal work contracts.

If scientific research were to indicate the need for legislation to address psychosocial risks in the workplace, the potential for physical collisions in “shared” workplaces and/or MSDs which are attributable to such new technologies and patterns of work, there ought to be further exploration of new legislation or alternatively, amendment of the H&S Framework Directive to clarify that the obligations of employers include the mitigation of these risks.

Consideration should be given to amending the H&S acquis to extend health and safety protection in the EU beyond the category of “worker” to the bogus self-employed, “zero-hours”/NGMH workers, “gig” economy, “platform” work and “on-demand” workers and teleworkers.

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