As a result, they operate with different priorities. Top of the
firefighter’s list is saving lives and property, while the chief
objectives of construction are to complete projects within time
and cost targets.
Many private industries – not just construction – rely on
regulatory authorities, such as the US Occupational Safety
and Health Administration (OSHA), to tell them what to do.
Protecting worker health and safety is treated mainly an exercise
in compliance with regulatory standards. Globally the same
pattern appears; the burden of upholding occupational health
and safety falls disproportionately on regulatory authorities,
rather than employers and workers.
While occupational safety laws first emerged in the nineteenth
century, comprehensive health, safety and workplace
environment management is largely a late-twentieth century
development. Technological change goes hand in hand with
transformations in occupational health and safety. Technology
brings new risks, but can at the same time drive improvements
in equipment, knowledge, and communication for Health and
Safety in Employment (HSE). The examples that follow illustrate
how the same technology development can create both new
risks and new opportunities for HSE.
Mobile radio communications
The development of mobile radio communications meant
that workers could better coordinate their work, respond to
emergencies sooner, and pass on situational information without
talking face-to-face. One very significant benefit was that police
and fire operations became faster, more effective and safer
as a result.
But in the presence of inflammable gases, a spark generated
from a radio can trigger an explosion. Intrinsically safe radios
were a response to this introduced hazard, but the protection
they offer is limited to where the hazard has been identified.
Much of modern HSE management depends on the use
of computers to store and process data, share complex
information, and to communicate. Big data, which integrates
huge chunks of data from multiple sources at high speed, uses
complex algorithms to deliver assessments, conclusions or
recommendations, and can even trigger actions.
This is the likely future of how large companies would like
to manage their workforces, how they make hiring and firing
decisions, tweak work schedules, set worker performance targets
and so on. But reliance on complex algorithms to replace human
decision-making can create new risks when bad or dangerous
decisions (for example, overloading a worker’s shift schedules)
emerge from the computer.
Manufacturing automation and robotics
Automation has removed human workers from many repetitive
and dangerous manufacturing operations. But human workers
still remain on the factory floor, either to perform tasks currently
not automated, or to service the automated machinery.
While modern workers may be removed from some of the more
obvious workplace hazards of days gone by, working beside
“ … the burden of
health and safety falls
rather than employers