AOHC: NIOSH Chief Offers Predictions for Future of Work

"The 21st century at work will not resemble the 20th century," predicted John Howard, MD, director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Speaking at a joint plenary session at the American Occupational Health Conference in Kansas City, Mo., Howard noted that the workforce is steadily decreasing and workforce shortages are looming. "The average age of workers is increasing. Employers will need to make accommodations for chronic diseases which are more prevalent in the chronologically gifted cohort," he added, amid much laughter.

He noted that an influx of immigrant workers, as well as workforce participation by women that is reaching 50 percent of the working population, will force changes in the workplace, as will the move away from a manufacturing-driven economy.

"The change to a knowledge-based economy brings psychological stressors," said Howard. He noted that nanotechnology, the ability to move and manipulate substances on the molecular level, is the future of technology, and, in fact, that future is here. (A nanometer is 1,000 times smaller than a micrometer, which is one millionth of a meter.) He predicted as many as 2 million workers will end up in nanotechnology or in workplaces that support nanotechnology. While nanotechnology will make most products lighter, stronger, cleaner, less expensive and more precise, it brings with it hazards, Howard cautioned.

He exhorted the safety equipment industry to rise to the challenge of protecting workers from particles that are 1/10,000th the size of bacteria, which is approximately 1/10,000th the size of a mosquito.

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