What work tomorrow?
How will occupational risks evolve in the next decades ? That is the question posed by INRS through its foresight activity which aims to explore possible future scenarios and their consequences on occupational health. The Scanning and Foresight Unit, reporting to General Management, endeavours to promote such reflections through actions conducted both in-house and via external and international collaboration.
For several years now, INRS has been doing foresight to determine scenarios for the evolution of occupational health and safety over the next decades.
Several exercises have been conducted up to now :
Artificial intelligence in the service of occupational safety and health (2023)
Fifth among the nine general principles of prevention governing business players’ actions in terms of the preservation of workers’ safety and health, is: adapting to technical progress1. The pace and proliferation of innovations make this task particularly challenging, especially since there must also be compliance with the other general principles, particularly the second on the list : evaluating the risks which cannot be avoided. A rigorous risk assessment often requires time and puts decision-makers in a delicate position with regard to technological innovations. They must be able to use these technologies to improve productivity and working conditions while ensuring that they do not generate new risks.
With regard to information and communication technologies (ICTs), artificial intelligence (AI) has drawn in a lot of resources and attention these past few years. Whether to improve productivity, lower the vulnerability of supply chains or for geopolitical reasons for relocating activities in strategic sectors, AI systems are seen as an asset to be developed, including for occupational risk management.
Occupational safety and health players are naturally concerned by the possible consequences of the introduction of AI systems in the professional environment. In general, they must attempt to assess the risks that these systems can pose to workers’ physical and mental health and make prevention recommendations.
INRS logically has a role to play in this work which completely falls within the scope of its mandate. The approach adopted for this foresight exercise, the results of which are presented in this document, was to focus on the possible uses of AI systems for the purpose of protecting occupational safety and health about a dozen years from now. In practice, we will see that certain conclusions extend beyond this initial framework, but it was deemed relevant to keep them. These technologies are already being used at certain workplaces, still at a marginal level, but are already raising questions.
The approach followed uses the following elements:
- the fundamentals of the foresight practice at INRS, i.e. collaborative and multidisciplinary, involving many experts within and outside of the institute ;
- the application of a methodological framework making it possible to imagine different possible futures, all coherent, not always desirable ;
- in-depth investigation of certain challenges and the extraction of key messages aimed at prevention players, most importantly social partners sitting on INRS’s board of directors.
Buildings of the future - What challenges will they present for occupational safety and health? (2022)
In 2019, the French technical and scientific centre for buildings (Centre scientifique du bâtiment -CSTB) and the agency for the ecological transition (Agence de la transition écologique - Ademe) launched a prospective exercise aimed at helping building sector players to anticipate upcoming changes so that they can be better prepared for them. This approach, dubbed “Imagining together the buildings of tomorrow”, convened a working group of 17 people over the space of two years.
This exercise made it possible to provide a “prospective toolkit” to sector players, with a series of 22 sheets, in particular. These sheets address variables relating to the main drivers of change and make contrasting hypotheses as to the development of each of them, as well as four scenarios in an effort to project towards 2050.
Called on by the leaders of the approach, the watch and foresight unit of INRS took part in this foresight committee in order to delve more specifically into the occupational safety and health challenges. To do so, an ad hoc group of experts on working conditions in the building and public works sector and on workplace design matters, coming from prevention organisations, academic fields and large companies in the sector was created. This group worked all throughout the year 2021 and was supported by a consultant from the Futuribles foresight consultancy. It had access to the content produced by the first foresight committee and was able to use it specifically to produce scenarios and identify the occupational safety and health challenges which are presented in this document.
Work after the Covid-19 pandemic : What changes in organizations. What are the health and safety issues ? (2022)
Faced with the Covid-19 pandemic, companies and organizations have had to adapt their operations (physical distancing measures; widespread use of remote work; questioning of open-spaces, office towers, the status of permanent employee, schedules, teams, etc.).
If no one is able to predict exactly how this crisis will evolve and what its impact will be, it seems advisable to think about the transformations it will bring about in order to prepare for them, to promote them or to slow them down.
In a first step, a working group made up of the association Futuribles International and INRS has reflected, in a prospective approach, on the possible evolutions of work organizations in the next five years. In a second phase, INRS wanted to look more closely at the associated occupational health and safety issues by looking at remote work, industrial relocation, automation, the offshoring of certain services, and changes in employment conditions, all of which are transformations in work that may have consequences in terms of occupational risks and prevention.
What training in occupational health and safety in 2030? (2019-2020) (in French only)
How should occupational health & safety training evolve over the next ten years to best meet the challenges of work transformation? INRS led a forward-looking approach involving experts from various organizations and social partners in an attempt to answer this question. The objective is to provide the actors concerned with a diagnosis of the situation and of the future projects, in order to adapt the prevention lever that constitutes training in occupational health & safety.
A circular economy in 2040. What impact on occupational safety and health? What prevention? (2017)
In 2017, INRS partnered up to explore the possible futures of a circular economy for 2040 and to identify the occupational safety and health challenges.
With regard to occupational safety and health, the challenge is key. A circular economy offers above all, the chance for better integration of prevention ahead of the creation of new production modes, new services and new products. But it can also result in negative effects if concern for the protection of workers’ health is not taken into account, swept under environmental interests. The potential risks are high when it comes to revising production processes or using other raw materials (particularly from recycling), rolling out new technology, developing repair and reuse activities, transforming waste for it to be reused, etc.
The goal of this prospective exercise was not to attempt to predict the future of this economic model, but to explore the mechanisms in order to identify the impact on working conditions that its development implies. The product of this reflection is a series of questions (and not recommendations) on topics that call for economic players to be vigilant so as to conciliate environmental preservation and occupational risk prevention in the new production and consumption modes introduced by the circular economy.
Platformisation 2027 - Consequences on occupational safety and health (2016-2017)
In 2016-2017, INRS carried out a foresight exercise on platformisation and its impacts on occupational safety and health in 2027. This exercise was built on the previous exercise conducted in 2016 on modes and methods of production in France in 2040. It was done in partnership with OSH bodies, institutional players and “new economy” participants. Several scenarios and three activity sectors (health, retail, interior construction) were examined.
Modes and methods of production in France in 2040 (2015-2016)
What are the production modes of the future ? And their consequences on occupational health and safety ? This exercise comprised four major stages :
- a retrospective phase to review the development of production modes over the previous 25 years and their consequences on occupational safety and health and to determine the factors influencing production modes and occupational safety and health (artificial intelligence, new technologies, forms of work contracts, etc.),
- determination of any breaking points or changes in the previous 25 years that could have had an impact on those factors,
- identification of the main challenges in terms of production and work organisation that would influence future changes,
- specific breakdown of these results in terms of occupational risks and prevention.
Development of nanomaterials by 2030 and their consequences on occupational safety and health in small enterprises in France (2014)
This exercise was conducted in cooperation with French partners, the Swiss Accident Insurance Fund (Suva) and the International Social Security Association (ISSA).
Depending on the development of nanomaterials, worker exposure and therefore the risk prevention measures to be implemented will not be the same. A multi-disciplinary working group designed four scenarios about the development of nanomaterials in France and deduced the impact of each of them on occupational risk prevention.
Use of physical assistance robots by the year 2030 (2013)
While these new types of industrial, service or personal care robots present a real opportunity for people at work, they also bring new risks for the health and safety of operators. Therefore, our experts have created different possible scenarios about how they may evolve and analysed their potential impact on occupational safety and health.