Automation and the Potential Threat to Workers Essay Example

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Automation and the Potential Threat to Workers


Karl Marx predicted the inevitable displacement of workers by emerging technologies. As far back as the 1800’s, many people across Europe and the United States were being rendered jobless by the rapid development of machinery and automation in many workplaces. Today, new technologies pose the same threat to many single-waged works across the world, such as mechanics, call-center and clerical workers (Wagner, 1985). Additionally, administrators and managers face redundancy as revolutionary computerized techniques replace human skill. While new technologies lead to improved efficiencies and greater production, they also pose an existential threat to many workers. Indeed, technology has reasonably increased the production capabilities of many societies, but the ordinary person has not seen their standard improve in direct proportion to advances in automation. This could be attributed to bureaucracy, poor administration, developmental costs of technologies and the unfair distribution of profits by corporations and investment banks (Cornell, 1992).

Office and factory automation has also altered the ecosystem of the workplace and has caused the emergence of new threats to employee productivity and health. A good example is the repetitive stress injuries resulting from physical and psychological stress which consequently lead to inability of the body and mind to fulfill various demands at the workplace. Such injuries include tendonitis, ulnar neuritis and thoracic outlet syndrome. Other threats are illnesses linked to radiations discharged by display terminals, such as very low frequency emission and electromagnetic fields. High tension power lines have been shown to increase the risk of cancer. Another threat is the occurrence of visual impairment, eye strain, aching and irritation emanating from prolonged usage of CRTs and other display terminals (Miyao et al., 1989).

As such, successful technological applications should be accompanied by reasonable responses in a bid to deal with the impersonal nature of technologies at the workplace. An ergonomically based approach is necessary in order to create a correct environment for the workers as well as address the social effects emanating from retrenchments due to automation (Goldstein, 2014). Such an ergonomically based advance requires integration of the efforts of various interested groups such as management, standards organization, manufacturers, legislators, technology dealers, research institutions, unions and employees.

Importance of the Issue to Organizations

The flooding of offices, factories and other workplaces with micro-computers, information technology tools, video display terminals and robots has caused various injuries to employees as well as the loss of employment for some workers. This change, in many places having not been sufficiently matched with changes in job processes and job designs has adversely affected organizations. The computer emanating injuries and loss of jobs and highly skilled employees has affected productivity in many organizations. Additionally, there is lost work-time, compensation costs for retrenched workers and liability suits. All these issues are of of grave concern for any organization (Horowitz, 1992).

Lewin’s Change Management Model pointed out the tendency and preference of people to operate within their comfort zones. As such, automation in the workplace is likely to be met with resistance by the workers, who are used to a certain way of doing things. The organization in question therefore must carefully go through the three stages of change i.e. Unfreeze, Transition and Refreeze to ensure workers agreement and support of the process (Normandin, 2012).

Additionally, Kotter’s 8 Step Change Model champions for change to be taken as a campaign. It means that workers only buy into change when the leaders convince all and sundry of the importance of that change (Normandin, 2012). In automating, the leaders of any organization can appropriately use this model especially in addressing the threats that pose health risks to workers, hence minimizing employee dissatisfaction and resistance.

How Organizations are addressing the issue

Considering the integration and increased application of information technology in the office, jobs in the office are no longer as safe as they used to be. In factories and other workplaces, automation has taken centre stage and use of forklifts, robots and other technology has presented varying degrees of threat to the health of the worker. Additionally, emerging technologies have rendered many workers jobless (Daniels, 2011). To combat the socio-economic effects emanating from the use of technology and rapid automation, organizations are adapting various measures.

These measures focus on creating an ergonomically-correct environment that ensures adjustability to accommodate worker-technology combinations. Firstly, all pieces of furniture and equipment should be such that they correctly adjust the workers dimensions. As such, the workplace, whether an office, production line or factory setting should accommodate healthy postures, especially where workers spend long hours sitting or standing before computer screens and other displays (Rotman, 2013).

Secondly, organizations recognize the effect of the environment on the health of employees, their productivity and general well being. As such, organizations ought to ensure that various components of the workplace environment i.e. noise levels, room temperatures, visual distractions and radiations are regulated to protect the workers (Hendrix, 2014). Examples of guidelines adopted by organizations to regulate work-place environment include:

  • Selection of ergonomically-correct equipment such as very low frequency (VLF) emission monitors and furniture with healthy back support and properly designed workstations.

  • Consulting with suppliers and experts before the purchase of equipment and the automation of workstations.

  • Arranging workstations in accordance to the need of the workers and the tasks they are performing. This means ensuring safe distances from visual displays and also from potentially dangerous moving parts in factories.

  • Proper training on usage of machines and application of dangerous technologies since the threat to the worker might be due to how the equipment is handled and used.

  • Provision of frequent breaks to stretch and move around from static positions and high concentration work.

  • Provision of adequate safety equipment to protect workers from dangerous radiations that pose health risks, noise emanating from machinery and potential physical injury from moving parts in industries.

On the issue of workers losing jobs due to automation, organizations respond by: effecting proper compensation schemes for workers retrenched due to automation, retraining of workers so as to work well in automated workstations, moving workers to low-wage service jobs and formulating long term strategies on organizational response to automation (Cornell, 1992).


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 Cornell, P., (1992). Improving TheWorkplace. The Secretary, August/September, 14-16.

Daniels, L., 2011. The Threat of Automation: Robots Threaten American Jobs, Newsweek, [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 1 June 2014].

Goldtein, F., 2014. Automation threatens 47% of U.S. jobs, Workers World, [online]. Available at:<
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Horowitz, J. M., (1992). Crippled By Computers. Time, October 12, 70-72.

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Wagner, F., (1985). Fine-Tuning Workstations Screens Out VDT Discomfort. Computer world, October 28, 98-99.