Input: Economic Factors
The low growth, increasing “input” cost pressures, and changes in technology and practices that are experienced in many industry sectors can be considered economic “stressors” that have the potential to affect the safety and health of workers both directly (more and changing work at a fast pace with limited opportunity for advancement) and indirectly (less resources available to invest in occupational safety and health).
For example, new technologies may affect occupational safety and health and may also have an economic impact on the following:
- Adoption of new technologies may benefit productivity, but new technologies can bring unanticipated safety and health risks.
- Businesses may feel pressure to adopt new technologies as their competitors adopt them.
- Decisions to implement technologies to benefit worker safety and health are typically weighed against other cost pressures.
The working population is changing dramatically: the numbers of older, part-time, intermittent, and contract workers have been increasing, as have the numbers of immigrant workers and workers whose primary language is not English. Language and cultural differences may impede training efforts and basic understanding of occupational safety and health requirements. Overall, these changes may result in more injury and illness incidents—including MSDs—with longer recovery periods, which in turn results in increased workers’ compensation payments and lost productivity.
Across industry sectors, many facilities keep operations open 24 hours, seven days a week. This often results in worker fatigue and sleep loss, and may lead to increased incidence of injuries and illnesses, including MSDs.
The increasing size of patients, along with the importation of health care providers of smaller stature, particularly nurses, has increased physical stresses for workers.
A large proportion of the health care sector is composed of very small establishments that may not be able to take advantage of safer technologies, such as patient lifting equipment, which may require high start-up and operating costs.
Working conditions in the agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting sector frequently involve performing intense seasonal work for long hours in harsh physical environments, often with large machinery or animals.
Unpaid family workers—including children and older adults—remain a unique feature of the sector and constitute a significant part of the sector’s workforce. The fact that many family farms rely on unpaid labor in order to continue to operate implies that they experience financial hardship.
Some of the economic factors prevalent in this sector can adversely affect the resources available for investing in safety and health, resulting in poor safety and health outcomes, while other factors, particularly related to equipment and product innovation, hold promise for improving safety and health.
Some tasks performed by workers in food manufacturing are difficult to automate, resulting in rising employment as demand for food products grows. However, technologically advanced machinery and computers increasingly are being used to address repetitive physically demanding tasks that result in worker nonfatal injuries, especially musculoskeletal disorders.
Electronic technology is increasingly allowing work to be completed at locations away from employers’ facilities, which may not provide adequate protection for the safety and health of the worker.
In the food services industry, wait and kitchen staffs are under enormous time pressure to accommodate customers in a time of “fast food” putting them at increased risk of falls, burns, cuts, and muscle strains.
Workers in retail trade are increasingly contract, temporary, and part-time employees. Their education level is low and their turnover rate is high.
Machine readable Universal Product Codes have helped automate the movement of goods and reduced unit costs in retail trade. This technology also may have reduced musculoskeletal exposures.
- National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
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