EHS Management

New Technologies and New Working Arrangements: NIOSH Looks at the Future for Manufacturers

A new draft research agenda recently issued by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has six objectives in researching workplace issues for the manufacturing sector. Your facility could be affected by one or all six of them. Yesterday we reviewed objectives concerning reducing injuries, fatalities and illnesses, and new approaches to surveillance of workplace hazards. Today we will look at the other four objectives in NIOSH’s Draft National Occupational Research Agenda for Manufacturing.

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Objective 3. Examine risks from new technologies. NIOSH intends to look at new technologies such as data processing, connectivity of devices and services, nanotechnologies, the Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, wearable devices, artificial intelligence (AI), and virtual reality that are reshaping manufacturing. While there are proven benefits of these new technologies, NIOSH is concerned about workplace safety and health issues such as the complexity of operating them safely and securely. In addition, the lack of guidelines in the manufacturing community creates concerns for security, deployment, and sustainability for the industry and its workforce. NIOSH researchers also plan to look into ethical concerns around the potential abuse of embedding sensing and intelligence in every device. NIOSH claims there is a need for research and guidance so that new technologies act in ways that complement and respect human activities.

Objective 4. Improve safety and health for workers in nontraditional employment arrangements. No matter what you call them—temporary workers, contingent workers, contract workers, on-demand freelancers—new employment arrangements are becoming increasingly common in manufacturing. NIOSH points to a report from the American Staffing Association that the highest proportion of staffing agency employees were assigned to industrial occupations (37%). According to NIOSH, temporary workers have higher rates of workplace injuries and illnesses. NIOSH claims that there must be more research into surveillance efforts, intervention, and translation research to help both host and client employers. NIOSH would also like to see the development of contract models and training platforms to provide workplace safety and health training to workers placed in host companies.

Objective 5. Advance capacity-building and educational efforts. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that the number of unfilled manufacturing jobs has been rising and reached its highest level of 364,000 in 15 years in January 2017. As manufacturers address the shortage of skilled labor and the need for continuous learning, NIOSH sees an opportunity to contribute worker safety and health content to new manufacturing educational and training initiatives.

Objective 6. Translate research into practice. NIOSH points to the recent proliferation of commercial workplace safety and health solutions. These “solutions” are not centralized, come in a variety of formats, and vary in quality. NIOSH claims that while the term “best practices” has become commonplace, in order to be truly “best,” there must be evidence of effectiveness. NIOSH intends to focus on a coordinated communication effort by various groups working on manufacturing workplace safety and health to highlight and promote programs and resources that are backed by quality research in the manufacturing community.

Note: If you have any concerns about the Draft National Occupational Research Agenda for Manufacturing, you must submit your comments by October 23, 2017. Go to http://www.regulations.gov and enter CDC-2017-0072, NIOSH 300 in the search box.

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