Often referred to as the 4th industrial revolution, Industry 4.0 refers to the intelligent networking of product development, production, logistics and customers. This offers new opportunities but also new challenges for workplace safety and health. A consequence of this is more and more complex machine controls whose safety must be guaranteed. In addition, increased networking, whether of production systems or workplaces in general, escalates the risk of data attacks or manipulation.
Digitalisation has also made its way onto our roads. In Singapore, the first self-driving vehicles are already being trialled on public roads. This requires early warning systems for adaptive human-vehicle recognition and accident prevention. For companies, mobile information and communication technology supports various work activities, including driving.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Artificial intelligence (AI) already plays an important role in solving highly complex tasks and is therefore of particular relevance to occupational safety and health. It is important that AI is designed and used in such a way that it does not create any new hazards, for example by limiting the reliability or predictability of such systems. At the same time, this technology offers benefits for occupational safety and health; for example, AI allows large amounts of data to be explored (data mining). As long as data protection is taken into account, this is an approach that can also benefit the Social Accident Insurance system (e.g., helping to identify key accident or illness issues).
3D printing is a part of additive manufacturing. The technology uses digital 3D design data to create a component layer by layer. Digital networking in 3D printing is vast, from design to purchasing, from production to logistics.
Collaborative robots are increasingly becoming a part of production halls. These machines work directly with employees, without a protective screen or fence. Working side by side like this requires new safety standards.
In virtual reality (VR), a person interacts in and with an artificial environment. Employees can have an almost real-life experience with simulated facilities, machinery and equipment. Occupational safety and health can also make use of this technology; for example, conducting risk assessments of workplaces and work equipment. VR also helps people with impaired work abilities.
Data glasses are a special form of virtual reality. They augment the real environment with virtual information or allow users to immerse themselves completely in a virtual world.
New opportunities and risks for ergonomic design
In addition to possible risks posed on employees, the digital transformation has the potential to make work safer, healthier, more flexible and more ergonomic. For example, exoskeletons can help provide mechanical support for strenuous activities such as lifting loads or working overhead. However, digitalisation increases the amount of sedentary work and encourages physical inactivity, as well as causing lopsided physical or mental strain (or a combination of both).
New technologies also raise questions regarding the subject of standardisation. An overview of the relevant standards and standardisation requirements concerning Industry 4.0 are available in the German Standardisation Roadmap – Industry 4.0. Experts from the German Social Accident Insurance are involved in drafting standards to ensure that OSH aspects are taken into consideration from the outset.
The digital world of work also affects the testing and certification of work equipment and protective equipment. Through testing and certification, the German Social Accident Insurance directly influences the safe and healthy design of work. Testing principles are developed for new technologies in order to reduce the risk of accidents or health hazards even before a product is put on the market.
More information is available from DGUV Test, the Institute for Occupational Safety and Health of the DGUV (IFA) and the testing and certification bodies of the individual DGUV Expert Committees.
Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (IFA)
Tel: +49 30 13001-3630