INVISIBLE HAND(S) Reader

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allowed to simultaneously send the vital data of employees from the sensors in its handle to the manufacturer. In the fully digitalized working world of Industry 4.0, even health protection seems to be a question of algorithmic optimizability. By the way, the danger of viral infection seems to be reduced to a minimum. After all, almost everything is mediatized by machines, while interpersonal contacts have mostly been reduced. Is this a fiction, or is health protection in Industry 4.0 actually guaranteed quasiautomatically? Remaining conceptually in the area of production, the deployment of 4.0 technologies actually reduces the risks for employees, whether because physically demanding or hazardous work is automated and the activities are transformed from physical tasks to monitoring / planning ones, or because the same processes simply require less personnel. However, these changes have led not so much to a reduction in the overall number of workers, but rather to a shift in the hazards from physical to psychosocial ones—for which occupational health and safety unfortunately still provide too few functioning procedures and routines. Stress is caused here, for example, by the fact that occupational expertise is no longer applicable if the work being carried out is automated. Isolation is also a problem in increasingly empty production plants, as is the “pilot dilemma” – the necessity for constant attention while being for the most part inactive – in monitoring activities and, of course, the loss of autonomy of agency described above. It should also not be forgotten that the job insecurity or loss of jobs associated with these developments can be an immense source of stress. In your work you repeatedly point out that a later change in technical systems – and thus also adaptation to the workers’ needs – is basically impossible because the costs are too high. Among other things, the costs arise from downtimes during which such readjustment would be possible. Now the shutdown decreed by the government has generated such downtime. How could it be used to improve working conditions in Industry 4.0?

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Of course, downtime in production plants could be used to make work processes more humane with the help of the technology deployed. Virtual health circles would even be conceivable here, on the basis of which systems and processes could then be adapted. However, such processes can only function on the basis of security and stability, not with the uncertain future prospects generated by this crisis. Accordingly, it is not surprising that such efforts are not currently noticeable, especially since the pandemic has brought with it, in addition to economic threats to existence, new and urgent health protection problems for which the priority was to find solutions. Initiatives are therefore currently mainly concerned with averting new dangers by improving hygiene, not with general improvements in conditions. What problems that were already apparent in the context of health protection before the pandemic should be given greater consideration from now on? It would be necessary to take a look at the problems that have further intensified or become more obvious due to the pandemic measures. Firstly, problematic working conditions in systemically important professions, where the imbalance between performance, workload, working time on the one hand and remuneration – in many cases also reputation – on the other can in no way be compensated by one-off bonus payments. Secondly, unevenly distributed working conditions in the context of the compulsion to work in flexible locations, which in the past required employees to have a degree of self-organization skills and opportunities that could not be achieved by everyone through indirect control mechanisms. Thirdly, precarious employment contracts which leave employees without security in times of crisis. Fourthly, particularly questionable working conditions at particularly powerful global companies which have gained even more market power as a result of the crisis. All in all, despite the current physical-viral threat, attention must be focused more strongly on the increasing psychosocial burdens that continue to accompany the digital transformation.


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