On construction sites, in warehouses, and on manufacturing floors, the implementation of automated technology has spurred many changes and questions on the future of humans in the workplace. Artificial intelligence, robots, and other forms of automation have meant that, for the most part, workers have had to adjust to their integration in favor of increased output and productivity. Conversely, some companies want to develop technology that fits human needs and behaviors instead of requiring workers make major adjustments to their current tasks because of a new tech-assisted approach, and with the ultimate goal to take the strain out of many physically demanding jobs.


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Eliminate The Strain Without Removing The Worker

Such changes could be as simple as replacing the steering wheel on a construction vehicle with a joystick, making it easier to control and more comfortable to operate. This very idea was put to the test at a recycling depot in Nottinghamshire, England and the results amounted to a more intuitive and less strenuous workday for the operator. This new approach is based on an old principal: ergonomics, which is all about catering a system to human needs and interaction.

Workers at the Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant drain test munitions. During operations, an automated system with robots will dismantle the rockets and neutralize the nerve agent they contain. Credit: PEO ACWA

Technology-driven ergonomics in industrial spaces can take many forms, including automated vehicles and equipment like lifts and dollies that are compact enough to work alongside humans. This machinery takes over the heavy lifting or manipulation of tools that are otherwise difficult or potentially hazardous to perform. More advanced robotics and sophisticated power systems could usher in a future that streamlines and scales down heavy equipment so it’s less of a physical burden to operate. Some technology also aims to utilize more biometric monitoring equipment, which assesses worker vitals, like pulse, oxygen levels, and brainwaves to scan for issues like fatigue and excessive physical stress. That information can then be used to prevent injury and other health hazards in the work environment.

How Easy Is Too Easy?

The goal of these technologies greatly accounts for the human factor of jobs that have always been performed manually. In some cases, they do remove humans from the equation entirely, as in the case of drones that perform inspections on equipment at extreme heights, but in others, the goal is to ease or eliminate the strain rather than completely alter the nature of the job.

Worker maintains demolition robot during weekend work along the Pelham Line in the Bronx. Credit: Metropolitan Transportation Authority of the State of New York

But, there are still issues to be addressed, including under-stimulation, boredom, and a drop in attention that can affect workers who have less hands-on interaction with their surroundings. Handing over too much of the job to technology could pose new risks and hazards, especially in industrial sectors.

Do you think it’s possible to find a balance? Has your workload been lightened by a recent adoption of automated technology? Comment and share your experience.

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