Robots make workers sick: study

Tuesday, 27 March, 2018

Robots make workers sick: study

Researchers in the USA have published findings that robots (and automation in general) could be affecting workers’ health through fear for their job security.

In the study ‘County-level job automation risk and health: Evidence from the United States’, researchers from Ball State University and Villanova University found that the rapid increase in automation in industry may be negatively associated with health outcomes, plausibly through perceptions of poorer job security. The research was conducted by Srikant Devaraj, a research assistant professor with Ball State’s Center for Business and Economic Research (CBER); Michael Hicks, CBER director; Emily J Wornell, a research assistant professor with Ball State’s Indiana Communities Institute; and Pankaj C Patel from Villanova University.

According to Hicks, most people agree that the risk of automation is significant. In 2015 Hicks says that job losses in the US manufacturing sectors due to automation were as high as 88%. “People who live and work in areas where automation is taking place are sickened by the thought of losing their jobs and having no way of providing for themselves or their families,” he said.

In this recent study, researchers found that a 10% increase in automation at the county level worsens general, physical and mental health by 2.38%, 0.8% and 0.6% respectively. The study estimates that the 10% increase in automation increases overall costs by $24 million to $174 million due to an increase in the prevalence of poor or fair health, $6 million to $40 million due to increased physical distress, and $7 to $47 million due to increased mental distress.

“The actual and felt threats from automation may not immediately manifest into morbidities, but the increasing prevalence of poorer self-reported health and feelings of deteriorating physical and mental health can have a direct and lasting impact on individuals, families and communities,” said Hicks. “While we cannot fully unpack the black box between county-level automation risk and health, nevertheless it is important for policymakers to understand the health effects of automation risk.”

Image credit: ©

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