Digitalization, Occupational Safety

The future of occupational health and safety

How do we as EHS experts prepare for the future of work?

Working in an increasingly technological world

8 minutes04/08/2021

By Davide Scotti 

There is no doubt that the pandemic has increased the pace of digitalization. Just think of the huge number of software solutions, apps and other digital tools that have arisen to help us handle this unprecedented situation. They are increasingly becoming a major part of our everyday lives, both at work and in private. Of course, we have seen plenty of technological developments in the past, but this was often a more gradual process. We could see it coming, analyze it, welcome it. Today, this is no longer the case. In our hyper-connected world, technological growth is exponential, and things move so fast that it is difficult to predict what direction they will take and adjust our approach accordingly.

What was once considered science fiction has become modern reality: collaborative robotics, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles, bionics, virtual and augmented reality, wearable technology, Big Data, 3D and 4D printing, the list goes on. All these innovations reinforce each other and are creating an unstoppable tide of change. And with it comes a multitude of questions that are difficult to answer.

The answers depend on the questions we ask

It is important to find the right questions before we start looking for answers:

  • What impact will technology have on the way we work and live?

  • What consequences and challenges does this present when it comes to health and safety?

There will be less of a need for humans to perform dangerous jobs thanks to robotics and automation, but the digitization of the working world also poses social, psychological, and organizational risks. Workers may need to be monitored constantly, work will need to be managed with algorithms, there will be increased ergonomic risks due to new human-machine interfaces, as well as an increase in screen time and mobile working. These are all aspects that managers and senior executives need to be thinking about already and where the support of EHS experts is essential.


A focus on humans

In this unstoppable innovation process, we as EHS experts must not allow ourselves to be overwhelmed. We must take the reins! But how? By reflecting on our uniquely human qualities and abilities and focusing on our values. After all, even if we are riding the tide of change, there are some fixed points to keep us grounded:

  • Human qualities -- creativity, imagination, intuition and, above all, ethics

  • Values of honesty and justice

  • Ability for cohesion and cooperation

  • Feelings of connectedness, trust, and love

  • Search for happiness and security

These are all elements that shape the infinite wonder of human life – something that machines will never be able to recreate. As futurologist Gerd Leonhard says: “The immediate future clearly is all about technology yet the bigger future lies in transcending it”.

Finding the right balance and staying mindful

I therefore urge the entire EHS community to try to find the right balance in these times of change and to stay mindful! Technology will become an even bigger part of our lives, but that should not scare us. We should study it carefully and make ourselves aware of the risks but also realize the benefits it offers us and use it properly. At the same time, we must always keep in mind that we are first and foremost human beings and want to remain so. If there is one thing we must always keep in mind, it is that technology can only ever give us a hand – it can never give us a heart.


Davide Scotti is the Head of HSE Culture, Communication and Training at Saipem, and since 2010 general secretary of the Leadership in Health and Safety Foundation.