Health and Safety at Work

Although robots are expected to increasingly take over hazardous jobs previously performed by workers, information technologies are likely to detect dangers more effectively, new risks can arise. For example, from the closer interaction between humans and smart technological equipment, the toxicity of materials used in 3D printing technologies and the psychological effects of the virtualisation of work and the possibility of working anytime, anywhere. Syndromes such as technostress (which is the stress deriving from altered habits of work and collaboration, due to the introduction of new technologies), occupational burn-out, ‘fear of missing out’ (FOMO, related to the perception that others might live wonderful experiences according to social media posts, while you do not). National and European institutions have already detected ‘nomophobia’ 9 (which is the fear of being without the mobile phone) and ‘phubbing’ (which is the habit of interacting with the phone rather than with human beings).

To deal with this challenge, workers’ reps should insist, also with the support of OHS experts, on smart equipment and new work environments being configured with a focus on humans and their safety and comfort. Raising workers’ awareness of safer behaviour and collaboration  with   new   technologies, 

they should experiment with new ways to prevent psychological diseases following the virtualisation of work and the increasing interference between work and personal life.

The Joint Committees on Health and Safety in Spanish Workplaces 

According to the Act No. 31/1995 and subsequent amendments, joint labour-management committees on health and safety are constituted in Spanish workplaces with at least 50 employees. These committees are entitled to participate in the definition, implementation and assessment of risk prevention measures. Notably, before the introduction of new technologies, joint committees on health and safety at work are called to analyze their future implementation from the perspective of risk prevention. This provision, introduced by law, is further detailed in company-level collective agreements.

The ‘Communication Etiquette’ in the Italian Company Manfrotto

In Italy, some company-level collective agreements in the metalworking sector envisage specific behavioural norms for proper use of new information and communication technologies. An example is represented by the collective agreement reached in 2018 at Manfrotto, introducing the so-called ‘Communication Etiquette’, that commits managers and workers to:

  • selecting the proper tool (either an e-mail, a meeting or other tools) in accordance with the type, content and timing of the communication; in any case, private tools (e.g., instant messages on private phones) should be avoided;
  • choosing the right timing for sending a notice, usually during working hours and possibly not in moments when the sender knows that the recipient is busy because, for instance, he/she is involved in business meetings;
  • carefully identifying the recipients so as to prevent people, that are not directly concerned, from being included in the communication;
  • highlighting the degree of priority and urgency of the communication so as to allow the recipients to evaluate when answering in accordance with their own organisational needs and workloads;
  • identifying specific times during the day, dedicated to the reading of the e-mails, to limit interruptions during normal business hours and pay attention to the activities that are being performed;
  • specifying when they are available or not and, in case of long-term absence, setting up automatic replies to e-mails which also provide the contact information of a colleague.

The ‘Right to Disconnect’ at BMW in Germany

The ‘right to disconnect’ from work has been introduced in many companies at the European level. An example can be represented by the agreement reached at BMW in Germany and come into force in 2014, stipulating that all employees are allowed to register time spent working outside the employer’s premises as working time. For instance, if they want to check their e-mail at home, before going to the office, they are allowed to do so, but they have to report the time spent in the activity outside the office to the company at the end of the week. Moreover, they are encouraged to agree ‘fixed times of reachability’ with their supervisors and, outside the agreed work time, they have the right to switch off and not be available. These collective provisions, complemented with the company motto “Work flexibly but know how to switch off” (Flexible arbeiten, bewusst abschalten), are meant to contrast informal mobile work and help individuals reconcile paid work with personal life.