3rd April 2017

ETUI: Occupational safety and health in 2040. Four scenarios

The project does not aim to predict the future but to identify and explore the challenges of different but altogether plausible futures and to facilitate dialogue to achieve concrete action involving various stakeholders and policy proposals. On this basis, we hope to take some key uncertainties and choices into consideration and to assess the soundness of today’s strategies and actions, European Institute of Trade Unions says.















































2040 Scenarios

In 2040, workers have numerous opportunities for being involved in and shaping their working environments. Both collective and individual participation are encouraged. Generally, labour relations have become more cooperative and partnership-based. Diverging interests are tackled through a fair legal framework, strong social dialogue and
institutionalised forms of finding a balanced compromise at an appropriate level. Working conditions in Europe are much healthier than they were twenty years ago. Society and politics have become considerably more inclusive. Even if some commentators sometimes complain about “sustainability fetishism” or “ever-present healthism”, the dominant feeling is that we have accomplished a great transformation in many aspects.

In 2040, self-employed workers working on the basis of result-oriented contracts dominate the labour market. There is a huge diversity of working conditions, dependent on individual values, preferences – and the market value of the respective work in combination with the corporate culture of the employer. Working time can be 10 or 60 hours per week. Overall work engagement is significantly higher than 20 years ago. Self-help literature with titles like “Mindfulness at
work”, “Zen of success”, “Engage and create”, “99 extraordinary places to work” or “How to be happy no matter what” top the sales lists. Of course, this is not the world of pure “peace and harmony”. It is a world of choice and self-reliance, which also contains a lot of short-sightedness, ignorance and carelessness. Too many workers are pushing things too far, leading to a burn-out or a deep professional crisis, for many an episode of their working life. Many have coaches to reduce stress and interpersonal conflicts at work. There is a broad variety of cures for calming the “hot-headed Icaruses” on the market – and there are a lot of helping hands. But ultimately, which way to go remains an individual choice. One way or another, most are in search of personal happiness.

Looking back from 2040, the number of work-related diseases, burn-outs, heart attacks, strokes, abuses, anxiety, depressions and even suicides has increased dramatically over the last two decades. Especially older workers in bad health or suffering from chronic diseases are living on the breadline. For too long, the consequences of deteriorating work environments have been neglected. While many continue to follow the mantra of “I have to work harder”, others no longer
want to subordinate their lives to a work ethos that judges human worth purely on the basis of economic productivity. Some are searching for allies. One recent phenomenon is the formation of “secret unions” through out Europe. Their initial aim is to provide support to the most vulnerable and precarious groups. At first only a few, often those personally affected, engage in these initially despairing endeavours. But with time, more and more join in, thus creating real prospects for change. 

In 2040, most workers have a personal “safety rob”, a robot that accompanies them wherever they go, collecting data and giving advice. When a problem is detected, preventive or corrective measures follow instantly. For more than two decades, the annual number of work-related accidents and diseases has been declining steadily. Of course, there are still high-risk and unhealthy workplaces, but they have become the exception. For most workers in Europe the situation is characterised by safe working environments. Health is valued highly. A strong state, rules-based workflows and the use of new technologies have contributed to this new context in which many former risks and hazards have become
history. But for many, ever-present and dense regulation and surveillance have also weakened their sense of responsibility. They don’t engage in their work or their communities, because they have the impression that almost everything is already set in stone. “Everything is organised for you” is the promise –but increasingly also the problem. More and more workers suffer from increasing pressure, rigid, inflexible procedures and little autonomy at their workplace. Thus in 2040, we witness not only widespread contentment with stable living conditions and strong community values, but also suspicion that these rules, constraints and commands are simply going too far. 

Members of the American Chamber of Commerce in the Czech Republic