In 2016, INRS (the French reference body for occupational risk prevention) carried out a large-scale foresight exercise on possible futures for productive industry in France to the year 2040. To this end, it brought together seven partner organizations (including Futuribles) with the ultimate aim of identifying the new health-and-safety-at-work issues. Michel Héry and Catherine Levert, who coordinated the exercise, set out the main lessons from it here.
After reminding us of the context — automation and the risks and opportunities it opens up in terms of production and employment — the authors make an initial assessment of the existing situation. This shows a high increase in prescriptiveness (more procedures to be respected and less latitude left to workers) and an intensification of the pace of work in recent decades. They then stress that these and future developments (particularly relating to new technologies, artificial intelligence etc.) are not systematically synonymous with a deterioration in working conditions: it all depends on the decisions made by the companies introducing the automation (productivity above all or liberation from routine tasks enabling greater creativity). Lastly, Michel Héry and Catherine Levert outline the five hypotheses selected in this foresight study and their impacts on health and safety at work: intensification of work; robotization with distributed advantages; privatization of the profits of robotization; the rise of freedom-form companies; and relocation.
Quite clearly, the attention paid to human resources differs greatly between these five hypotheses. The question will be, then, particularly for the public authorities, to encourage employers to make the right choices so that automation can be a win-win operation.