The work environment is changing, thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT), the use of robots, smart phones and tablets and new software programs.

Joachim Schäfer, managing director at Messe Dusseldorf GmbH, says the focus “is on the digitization of the working environment and the impact of those processes on work conditions.”

According to Schäfer, the “digitization“ of the workplace refers only partly to Iot, because it can be found across most industries and jobs. All workers have to deal with new technologies, has to learn new software and data management programs and might, at some point in the future, work next to or be replaced by a robot or intelligent program. For example, a nurse might be supported by a robot that takes care of patient’s digital files and insurance cards or a secretary might place supply orders through a digitial program. Some of the challenges facing employers and workers from the digitization of the workplace will be highlighted at the A+A trade fair in Düsseldorf, Germany.

The German Confederation of Trade Unions (DGB) recently conducted a study called the “DGB Good Work Index.” Most of those employees surveyed – 82 percent – felt that their work was impacted by digitization processes and 60 percent even described this impact as high or very high. The respondents predominantly reported a greater strain, growing workloads and an increasing need for multitasking. A majority also said they were experiencing more monitoring and checking of their work.

“Demographic change has also created new challenges and opportunities,” says Schäfer. “Measures to maintain a person’s working capacity are therefore just as important as industrial safety and corporate security. They improve people’s lives by protecting them from health and safety hazards. At the same time, they increase a company’s productivity and thus also its competitiveness.”

From Oct. 17 -20, a safe, secure and healthy workplace will be on the agenda at the A+A trade fair and congress in Düsseldorf. Since it started in 1954, A+A has helped to raise worldwide awareness of industrial safety and health promotion in the workplace. EHS Today will be reporting from A+A for the first time this year.

A lot has happened since the first A+A (named Trade Fair for Industrial Safety and Occupational Healthcare at that time):

  • 25 years ago, the European Union introduced its first framework directive on industrial safety. Since then the EU has continually played a pioneering role with its high standards in protecting employees from health and safety hazards.
  • Since 2008, the number of fatal occupational accidents has dropped by nearly one quarter.
  • During that same period, there has been a 10 percent reduction in the number of employees in the EU with at least one work-related health problem or with a problem that has been aggravated by their work situation. 

“Nevertheless, there are still major challenges. It has been estimated that around 160,000 people die of work-related diseases in Europe every year,” says Schäfer. “It is one of the highest priorities to maintain and update high standards in Europe. The European Commission has recently committed itself to implementing further key measures. Their purpose is to adapt EU law and employment protection legislation to match changing employment patterns and developments within society.”

Many employers are aware that preventative healthcare and health-promoting working conditions do not just cost money, but also save money due to less accidents and illness-related absences. Also, in the long-term, such measures have been shown to help companies retain workers because they “feel happy at work if their environment is healthy, safe and pleasant. It increases their creativity, productivity and therefore also the quality of their output,” says Schäfer.

The 35th International Congress on Industrial Safety and Healthcare is organized by the German Federal Association for Occupational Safety and Health (Basi). The congress program will feature over 50 presentations, with more than 300 speakers addressing current issues and outlining potential solutions. As in previous years, the A+A Congress will include the conference of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) as a major program item. It will consist of three sessions in which the following topics will be discussed by experts on employment, health and safety:

  • Occupational health and safety in the global supply chain.
  • How can companies and employers collect and analyze occupational health and safety data in order to improve safety and personal protection at work?
  • Violence and psycho-social risks in the workplace.

The Safety & Security Trend Forum features presentations on recent developments regarding avoidance of airborne dust, explosion safety, safe handling and storage of hazardous materials, fire protection and emergency management and fall protection. Fire Protection and Emergency Management will feature informative presentations and live demonstrations, showing what action can be taken to prevent accidents and large-scale disasters and how to conduct rescue operations. The German Association of Plant Fire Services will provide information about rescue operations in a pit, rescue operations in a container, rescue operations/evacuations on a platform and rescue operations on scaffolding.

Protective clothing and PPE are important ways to protect wearers from exposure to hazards – but only if they are worn. Being comfortable and having an attractive design considerably increases acceptance among users. Presentations at the daily A+A “Fashion Shows” will showcase the diversity and fashionable character of contemporary protective work clothing and PPE. High-quality design and safety have been integrated in new PPE, including “smart” solutions and new materials.

The Workplace Design & Corporate Health track will concentrate on the ergonomic design of workplaces and routines in the office as well as on workplace health promotion. Topics will include workplace best practices in creating worker-friendly workplace design, designing human-to-machine interfaces, preventative healthcare and safety, demographics and cost-effectiveness. Topical issues discussed on this platform will include age-appropriate workplace design, lighting, air conditioning and acoustics.

A+A 2017 also offers a trade fair featuring the latest global trends and products in industrial safety, health promotion in the workplace and safety management at work. Around 1,900 exhibitors plan to attend from all around the world.