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 with unanticipated movements, the toxicity of materials used in 3D printing technologies, the sedentary positions associated with IoT 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), ‘nomophobia’ (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) have already been detected by national and European institutions. Moreover, the development of musculoskeletal disorders in the workplace has been identified as the result of the interplay between both psychosocial and physical risk factors.

To deal with this challenge, workers’ reps should insist, also with the support of OHS experts (incl. psychologists, ergonomists, occupational physicians, etc.), on smart equipment and new work environments being configured with a focus on humans and their safety and comfort. They should adopt holistic and 

comprehensive intervention strategies, reflecting the multifactor causality (arising from both the individual and the workplace) of occupational diseases and accidents at work, and a participatory approach, including all levels of the workforce, in an effort to better identify relevant risks and find proper solutions. By raising workers’ awareness of safer behaviour and collaboration with new technologies, workers’ reps should experiment with new ways to prevent psychological diseases following the virtualisation of work and the increasing interference between work and personal life.

In 2017, ENI Italia, part of the homonymous multinational group operating in the energy sector, selected six of its establishments where introducing innovative digital technologies (such as Augmented Reality and Internet of Things), with the aim to improve efficiency in operative and decision-making activities as well as workers’ health and safety. In order to implement the so-called ‘Smart Safety’ project while complying with legal duties especially as regards workers’ data protection, ENI Italia engaged in a long collective bargaining path with the Italian sectoral trade unions, FEMCA-CISL, FILCTEM-CGIL and UILTEC-UIL, entailing the signature of 22 collective agreements (7 referred to the entire company, the others to the single sites). Both collective bargaining and the joint organisation of training and awareness-raising programmes have eventually enabled the introduction of smart PPEs and channels for real-time data sharing, aimed at reporting possible unusual or dangerous situations, facilitating more efficient decision-making processes and delivering remote support to employees in field operations. After four years from the start of the project, five establishments have fully integrated the ‘Smart Safety’ innovation, while some problems persist at one site, due to the resistance of some workers and labour representatives.
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.
In July 2021, at Chiesi Farmaceutici, a multinational pharmaceutical company based in Parma (Italy), business and workers’ representatives signed an agreement where special attention was paid to work-life balance and the psychological and physical integrity of remote workers. Notably, the parties outlined some rules of conduct, such as: organising meetings between 9 am and 6 pm, by preserving the lunch break; avoiding to convening videoconferences one after the other in order to let people relax and get prepared for the next appointment; encouraging people to periodically stretch to reduce possible neck pressures and pains; sending emails and communications preferably during the normal working time. Moreover, the company committed itself to providing remote workers with the necessary psychological support to prevent the emergence of feelings of isolation.