The authors of a new paper investigated the relationship between the introduction of industrial robots in factories, injury rates among workers in the United States and Germany, and their well-being.
Employees at various plants in the U.S., where autonomous devices that help move various objects and perform production processes are actively being introduced and used, have become less likely to be injured due to robotization. However, now they are more prone to mental problems and more often abuse alcohol and drugs. This is the conclusion reached by scientists from the University of Pittsburgh, Princeton University, the Free University of Berlin and the John F. Kennedy Institute for North American Studies (Germany). The study is published in the journal Labor Economics.
“We still know little about the effects of robots on physical and mental health. On the one hand, they can take on some of the most strenuous, physically demanding and risky tasks, reducing the risk to workers. On the other hand, competition with robots increases pressure on people who fear losing their jobs or facing retraining,” the researchers said.
They analyzed data on workplace injuries from U.S. workers: automation reduced the injury rate by 1.2 cases per hundred employees per year. At the same time, in regions where robots worked hand-in-hand with humans more often (mostly suburban areas), the researchers found an increase in drug and alcohol-related deaths – plus 37.8 cases per 100,000 people annually. There was also a slight increase in suicides and referrals due to mental health problems.
Then, after studying the impact of robotics on workers in Germany, the researchers came to a surprising conclusion: in that country, factory workers did not feel the detrimental effects on their psyche and well-being due to the introduction of robots. Meanwhile, there were five percent fewer injuries and four percent less physical workloads.
“Germany has stricter employment protection laws,” the researchers explain. – In both cases, robots had a positive effect on the physical health of workers, reducing injuries and work-related disability. But in an environment where factory employees were less protected, competition with robots correlated with mental health problems.”
As a result, the paper’s authors conclude: robotization and automation of industries, while beneficial, can have bad effects on workers’ mental health and well-being. And public labor market institutions must take responsibility to keep people safe.
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