As emerging technologies gain traction in the workplace, NIOSH focuses on safety

As emerging technologies continue to impact the workplace, NIOSH is keeping a watchful eye on whether these new materials and processes will create new on-the-job hazards.

   Speaking June 12 during the agency’s Expanding Research Partnerships Series webinar titled “Occupational Safety and Health Issues of Emerging Technologies,” Associate Director for Nanotechnologies Charles Geraci said technology is creating opportunities for workers – and identifying possible skills gaps. A 2018 Deloitte report states that 4.6 million manufacturing jobs will need to be filled over the next decade. Of that total, almost 2.7 million openings will emerge because of retirements, while nearly 2 million will be added as a result of the natural growth of the industry. That will leave 2.4 million jobs, according to the report’s estimate, likely to be vacant because of a skills shortage.

   “That caught our attention,” Geraci said. “It’s not an insignificant number. That’s 4.6 million workers either doing new jobs, doing different jobs, or having to be upskilled or reskilled.”

The pace and breadth of advanced manufacturing technologies creating these jobs isn’t likely to slow.

“Because of all of these events, we wanted to determine the worker safety and health burden,” Geraci said.

Discussing one particular concern for workers in the semiconductor industry, Nicole Neu-Baker, a research associate for nanohealth initiatives at the State University of New York Polytechnic Institute, addressed chemical mechanical planarization. CMP involves a slurry that polishes a product to remove surface materials. During these and other processes, Neu-Baker said researchers are studying potential exposures that could affect worker health.

Additionally, Geraci noted that “sensing technology,” a way for materials to be tested and data to be gathered, could benefit workers moving forward.

“If we can send a [signal] every second of the life cycle of a given product or material through its current physical and environmental conditions,” Geraci said, “we should also be able to sense those kinds of changes in the environment around the worker and use that in real-time fashion to understand and protect workers in their health and safety activities.”