A new report published by the ILO highlights the challenges and opportunities for creating better working environments

Every year, more than 374 million people are involved in workplace accidents. And at least 2.78 million workers have lost their lives to injury or illness. This is according to the report on Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) prepared by the International Labour Organization (ILO) on the occasion of the World Day for Safety and Health at Work. This study also estimates that the loss of work days for safety-related issues accounts for almost 4% of global GDP, even reaching 6% in some countries.

In addition to the economic cost, there is also an intangible value that is not reflected by these figures, which is the unmeasurable human suffering caused by poor occupational safety conditions. This situation is sad and regrettable because ─as the report points out─ this suffering that can be prevented to a large extent. Work-related stress and illnesses (circulatory, respiratory and cancer) are of increasing concern to many workers.

The changes

It is not possible to predict exactly what kind of technologies will exist in the future and how they will be integrated into the world of work and the repercussions they will have. However, the ILO highlights some of the challenges and opportunities for creating better working environments. The report highlights four aspects that will drive change in the near future.

1.- Technology, rapid technological advances affect virtually every aspect of the world of work. Thus, digitisation, robotics and nanotechnology can also affect health, and introduce new materials that may pose risks that have not yet been established. However, if properly applied, technology can help reduce exposure to hazardous elements and facilitate job training.

2.- Demographics, the global workforce is constantly changing. In some countries, the number of young people is increasing, while in others the population is ageing. This situation leads to an imbalance in the workforce. On the other hand, the gender gap persists in most countries. The number of women joining the workforce is rising significantly, and they are more likely to work in atypical forms of employment and at greater risk.

3.- Sustainable development and climate change have given rise to risks such as air pollution and excessive heat stress that can lead to job losses. For example, coal mining has a direct impact on the health of miners and of the populations in the vicinity of the mines. Green employment is emerging to reduce hazards in traditional sectors, but ─the report warns─ these jobs can also give rise to new and unknown risks, such as exposure to chemicals in the recycling sector.

4.-Changes in work organisation. The requirements of a globalised world have led to an increase in the number of workers working excessive hours, temporary contracts, part-time jobs, subcontracting, occasional jobs, among other conditions. Approximately 36% of the world’s workforce works more than 48 hours a week. In addition, the growth of employment platforms, which on the one hand have reduced the stress associated with commuting between home and work, have created new psychosocial pressures on workers trying to reconcile work and family responsibilities.



The challenges of creating a safe and healthy occupational environment in the future include:
Anticipate new occupational health and safety risks. This will be a decisive step in managing them effectively and building a culture of prevention.
• Combine different disciplines. An interdisciplinary approach involving legislation, task design, technological tools (sensors, healthtech), the nature of individuals (psychology, sociology), medicine and neuroscience, among others.
Develop skills. The integration of safety into the education of all people before they reach working age is another challenge. Vocational training programmes can help build future generations of workers who perform their tasks in safer conditions.