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ECONOMICS

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Inputs: Economic Factors

Many economic factors may affect work and workplace characteristics that in turn affect the risk of injury and illness. Examples of some of these factors are listed below. Some of these economic factors may be difficult to alter, but their health and safety consequences can often be addressed through health and safety measures. NIOSH and others are researching the impact of some of these factors. The following examples of some of the economic factors that affect worker safety and health include links to publications that illustrate their role. Note that the literature on some of these factors may be much more extensive and that the references given here are offered only as examples.

Market Conditions

Financial or Competitive Pressures: Companies that come under severe financial or competitive pressures may be tempted to save money in the short run by reducing attention to worker safety and health, even in cases where it improves economic results in the medium to long run. For example, rising fuel and energy costs may force companies, particularly small- to medium-sized companies, to divert monies that otherwise would be targeted for safety and health improvements to pay for rising operating costs in order to stay in business. Rising healthcare costs also may result in employers reducing or eliminating their contributions to worker healthcare plans.

Workforce Demographics

Aging Workers: The demographics of the working population have been changing dramatically. Many workers continue to work past “normal” retirement age by choice or necessity. The overall aging of the working U.S. population may result in higher risks of occupational injury and illness.

Non-English Speaking Workers: There are many immigrant and minority workers whose primary language is not English and who therefore may be less effectively trained and less aware of hazards and safe practices.

Employment Arrangements and Work Schedules

Unpaid Family Workers: Small agricultural operations may employ unpaid family workers (both young and old) to work on the farm, operate machinery or other equipment, or take care of livestock. This may result in increased injuries and illnesses. Long seasonal hours during planting and harvesting also may result in increased injuries.

24-7 Production Schedules: Many facilities in manufacturing, mining, chemical processing, and health care keep operations open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Consequently, more individuals work on rotating or permanent shifts across these hours. Often, this results in worker fatigue and sleep loss and may lead to increased incidence of injuries and illnesses.

Part-time Work: Individuals who work part-time, intermittently, or under contract are not offered the same benefits as those enjoyed by full-time workers and therefore may have to work long hours or at multiple jobs.

Productivity Incentives: Some workers in construction, agriculture, and other sectors are paid by the job or in proportion to the quantity of their work output and therefore may be tempted to cut corners on safety to get the job done quickly.

Emerging Technologies and Management Trends

Nanotechnology: New technologies may adversely affect worker safety and health in unknown ways. For example, the rapid growth of nanotechnology exposes workers to engineered nano-particles whose effect on worker health has not yet been fully understood.

New Security Measures: Implementation of security measures at airports, border crossings, and port facilities may raise worker stress levels and expose workers to new risks resulting from new technology and major staffing changes.

Production Models: Just-in-Time and Lean Manufacturing are business models that attempt to minimize production wastes such as excessive inventory, unneeded transport or processing, overproduction, and product defects. Questions have been posed about the possibility that pressures created through close coordination of production tasks and deliveries might affect worker safety and health. In addition, the nature of job design and training in these systems could also affect worker safety and health positively or negatively.

 
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