Special Topics in Safety Management

NIOSH Looks Ahead to the ‘Future of Work’

To address emerging workplace safety and health issues, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has launched a “Future of Work” initiative, according to Director John Howard, MD.

robotic arms

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“Swift and advanced innovations in technology, automation, and globalization demand a collaborative, forward-thinking approach,” Howard said in his Labor Day statement.

The Institute has assigned several centers and working groups throughout NIOSH to work internally and in collaboration with external partners and stakeholders to address issues presented by the future of work.

Centers and working groups involved in the Future of Work initiative include the Center for Occupational Robotics Research, Nanotechnology Research Center (NTRC), and National Center for Productive Aging and Work.

The NTRC researchers have partnered with a 3-D printer manufacturer and industry group to study particulates and volatile organic compounds emitted by 3-D printers.

The Safe Skilled Ready Workforce Program has developed interventions and training for young workers and contingent workers. The program has developed a school curriculum to give students foundational workplace safety and health skills they can take to any job.

NIOSH also has examined the ability of wearable robotic exoskeletons to reduce the physical load of construction work and whether exoskeletons create new hazards or help control existing ones.

New Work, Changing Work

One of the challenges in workplace safety and health is the rapid growth of new occupations like the solar photovoltaic installer, which is expected to grow by nearly 105% over the next several years, and the wind turbine service technician, which is expected to grow by over 96%.

Several other rapidly growing occupations include jobs in the healthcare field:

  • Home health aide, expected to grow 47.3% by 2016;
  • Personal care aide, expected to grow 38.6%;
  • Physician’s assistant, expected to grow 37.5%;
  • Nurse practitioner, expected to grow by 36.1%; and
  • Physical therapist assistant, expected to grow by 31%.

Digital transformation, globalization, and technological innovations have accelerated the speed at which work changes, according to NIOSH. Complex, emerging workforce issues confronting both employers and workers include:

  • An aging workforce;
  • Concerns about gender pay and employment disparities;
  • Recruiting and retaining workers in highly competitive labor markets;
  • Shifting employment relationships like contingent or “gig” employment; and
  • Uncertainty about how best to manage new technologies entering into the workplace.

Total Worker Health

The initiative’s purpose is to promote the well-being of workers, their families, and communities by encouraging an integrated, multidisciplinary perspective in keeping with NIOSH’s Total Worker Health approach.  The approach combines occupational safety and health hazard controls with worker health promotion.

The goals of NIOSH’s Future of Work initiative are:

  • Compiling studies on the changing nature of work;
  • Featuring research projects related to the initiative;
  • Promoting research into new industries, job arrangements, organizational designs, risk profiles, and technologies, as well as new ways to control workplace risks; and
  • Connecting trends in work, workforce, and workplace changes to prepare for the future of occupational safety and health.