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11/06/2010

Would you like to contribute to future health and safety in ‘green jobs’?

Kate Palmer

Working environments are continuously changing with the introduction of new technologies, substances and work processes, changes in the structure of the workforce and the labour market, and new forms of employment and work organisation. New work situations bring new risks and challenges for workers and employers, which in turn demand political, administrative, technical and regulatory approaches to ensure high levels of safety and health at work.

It is in this context that EU-OSHA’s European Risk Observatory (ERO) has commissioned a foresight study to explore the potential impact that key technological innovations may have on workers’ health and safety, both positively and negatively, in jobs in the green economy (“green jobs”) and what new and emerging risks to occupational safety and health (OSH) this may bring by 2020. Indeed, the impetus to “green” the economy is the opportunity to anticipate potential new risks in these developing green jobs and make sure their design integrates workers’ safety and health. Green jobs should not only be good for the environment but also for workers.

By technological innovations we mean new technologies that may be developed by 2020 and introduced into “green” workplaces creating new and emerging risks; or existing technologies that may be used in “green” workplaces and may lead to the development of new work processes also creating new and emerging risks.windmill.jpgThere are many definitions of ‘green jobs’. When referring to “green jobs” we have taken the definition used by the United Nations Environment Programme in their report “Green Jobs: Towards Decent Work in a Sustainable, Low-Carbon World”, where they are defined “as positions in agriculture, manufacturing, construction, installation, and maintenance, as well as scientific and technical, administrative, and service-related activities that contribute substantially to preserving or restoring environmental quality”. This is a very broad definition but its scope in the context of our project is narrowed down as we are interested in emerging risks arising from new technologies. So the primary interest is in those working with or directly affected by the new technologies in green jobs. For example, ‘white collar workers’ using existing ICT technologies in a green industry are not the focus of the foresight. Likewise, jobs in green industries where the risks are the same as other jobs, for example transport of green goods which implies the same working processes as transport of “non-green” goods, do not fall into the scope of this project, either.

The basis of our foresight study is an understanding that the future can evolve in different directions, which can be shaped by the actions of various players and the decisions taken today. The foresight will result in a series of scenarios of possible futures to help policy-makers understand what decisions today can shape a better future of OSH.

Although we focus on emerging risks arising from new technologies in green jobs, it is very important to look at those in the context of political, economic and societal trends which drive changes in the world of work. Examples of such drivers of change are socio-economic trends which affect the labour market; trends in public attitude towards risks; national, European and international political agendas; developments, such as globalisation or economic crises, etc...

The process requires multidisciplinary input not only from OSH experts. We are looking for input from other disciplines such as environmental protection, occupational medicine, public health, sociology, economics, demography, politics, etc. We would also like to involve people from the public and private sectors (including at company level) involved in Research and Development in relation to technological innovations, representatives of companies at the forefront of sustainable development, people involved in the implementation of the greening policy agenda, as well as from any other areas where key drivers of change may impact the introduction of new technologies in green jobs and create new OSH risks.

If you would like to contribute to our project and help us develop the possible future scenarios, I invite you to participate in an online questionnaire where you can give your views on the drivers of change identified so far or to add any additional drivers that you think should be considered.

It shouldn't take you more than 30 minutes to complete and the consultation will be available during June. The results will be available in October so watch this space for more information!