Below is the uncorrected machine-read text of this chapter, intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text of each book. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.
6 Technological Chance and the Work Environment The impacts of technological change on employment within the U.S. economy extend well beyond the availability of jobs and the wages associated with those jobs. Technology also affects the organization of work and the structure of the firm; as we discussed in Chapter 2, the adoption of new technology in many industries and firms requires significant changes in the organization of the work process to realize the potential productivity gains of innovations. In addition, labor relations and human resources policies are affected. Cooperation between labor and management is essential to address worker concerns about employ- ment security and to plan the large-scale adoption of new technology and the development of new systems for job classification and compensation. New technologies also may have important effects on health and safety in the workplace, imposing new demands on private and public policies and organizations charged with responsibility for regulating workplace haz- ards. THE IMPACT OF TECHNOLOGICAL CHANGE ON ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURE Evidence of the effects of technological change on organizational structure can be found in three bodies of work: case studies of individual firms, studies of changes in the occupational structure of sectors or the entire economy, and studies of changes in the occupational and organi- zational structure of individual industries. As in the case of the employ 122
TECHNOLOGICAL CHANGE AND THE WORK ENVIRONMENT 123 ment impacts of technological change, this evidence is mixed in its quality and conclusions because of several major shortcomings. As we suggested in Chapters 2 and 5, the skill requirements and job characteristics of many of the occupational categories for the overall U.S. economy can change significantly over time. Occupational categories also have undergone considerable redefinition in successive published tabulations of occupa- tional data (see the 1980 report of the National Research Council's Committee on Occupational Classification and Analysis), which makes longitudinal comparisons extremely difficult. This analytic approach also is hampered by the fact that the impact of technology on changes in firm and workplace structure frequently cannot be disentangled from that of other influences, such as increased international competition. Finally, as was discussed in Chapter 2, the relationship between technology and the structure of the firm and workplace is interactive technology influences but does not "cause" a particular structure. Organizational factors and managerial decisions often influence the effects of a given technology on workplace structure and worker skills. Separating the influence of tech- nology on organizational structure from that of other factors and assigning a causal role to this factor are very difficult tasks. In view of these limitations, the following discussion of changes in the structure of the firm draws heavily on a limited number of case studies and examples, rather than on comprehensive evidence. These studies suggest that the adoption of new technologies will transform the content of many jobs in both the manufacturing and nonmanufacturing sectors. The new jobs that result will involve a wider range of functions or duties, training for these more numerous tasks, and (as discussed in Chapter 4) more emphasis on mental acuity than on physical strength. Moreover, despite contentions and anecdotal evidence to the contrary, we do not expect that the adoption of these technologies will reduce opportunities for intrafirm advancement and thereby produce a "two-tiered" labor force. The Structure of the Firm We can better understand the effects of new technologies on manufac- turing and service sector firms by considering the technological origins of the structure of the U.S. firm and its production organization. The organizational structure of the modern U.S. manufacturing firm arose during the late nineteenth century in response to innovations in produc- tion processes that favored the development of continuous-flow, mass- production technologies for the manufacture of goods. The development of low-cost, reliable, and rapid modes of communication and transporta- tion also influenced the structure of the firm. Reductions in the costs of
124 TECHNOLOGY AND EMPLOYMENT managing the flow of goods and information within a single organization increased the payoffs from centralizing the management of a growing number of production plants and a broadening range of activities within the firm (Chandler, 19761. These changes resulted in an expansion of the geographic area that could be served by a single production plant, as well as an increase in the number of production establishments that could be managed by one organization. Within many manufacturing and nonmanufacturing establishments, the work process was organized along lines pioneered by Henry Ford and Frederick Taylor in the early twentieth century. Tasks were broken down into a series of relatively unskilled, repetitive activities, the performance of which relied on specialized capital equipment. The production assem- bly line had an analogue in the large keypunching and data-entry "back-room" operations of the central management staff of manufactur- ing and nonmanufacturing firms. Although controlling the pace of work and the structure of jobs was the exclusive province of management within this work environment, unions sought to establish internal employment regulations based on seniority and job classifications. Narrow job classifications for production workers allowed management to rely on lower-level managers, rather than work- ers, to make decisions and also lowered the firm's costs for training replacements for workers leaving the firm. From the union's viewpoint, narrow job classifications increased the number of workers on the payroll while protecting senior workers from displacement. Although these practices benefited both labor and management, they also contributed to the development of an adversarial relationship between these groups in many industries and workplaces. The technologies of product design and manufacture within this envi- ronment relied on long production runs of standardized goods, a system that was developed to defray the high costs of specialized capital equipment. "lIard" automation- for example, automatic drill presses- is representative of the manufacturing process technologies associated with this production structure; machinery was specialized, the pace and characteristics of tasks generally were beyond the control of the individ- ual worker, and changes in product design were time-consuming and expensive. Management's control of production processes, as well as the growth in nonmanufacturing functions within the large firm (e.g., market- ing and product distribution), meant that middle management employ- ment expanded considerably within U.S. manufacturing firms. These middle managers exhibited considerable specialization by function; re- search, product development, and design often were carried out sepa- rately from production engineering. In many firms this organizational structure is now changing in ways that
TECHNOLOGICAL CHANGE AND THE WORK ENVIRONMENT 125 have been facilitated, if not always caused, by new manufacturing and information technologies. For example, information technologies have lowered the costs of managing information, which in some instances has reduced the advantages of intrafirm management and performance of such activities as marketing or research. The advantages of the large firm, which were rooted for many years in the low costs of intrafirm commu- nications, are being eroded in some industries by the rapid decline in the costs of interfirm communication, in addition to other factors. Together with intensified international competition, this development has led U.S. firms in some industries to rely on external sources for administrative and support services, which often results in "spinning off' portions of these activities to other organizations. Consequently, the number of employees in some large U.S. manufacturing firms is growing very slowly or is shrinking. Simultaneously, growth in the business services sector gener- ally, and in the temporary worker industry in particular, has been very rapid (Carey and Hazelbaker, 1986; Howe, 1986~. Similar trends are apparent in other industrial nations. (See Pearson, 1986, for a discussion of this phenomenon in Great Britain.) The case of the Benetton Group of Italy illustrates one pattern of change in firm structure (see Belussi, 19861. Sales of Benetton, an international producer of woolen goods, have increased from 55 billion lira in 1978 (at current exchange rates, roughly $42 million), when the firm consisted of roughly 1,000 employees, to more than 623 billion lira (nearly $480 million) in 1984 with only 1,600 employees. Through extensive reliance on subcontractors and franchisees, the firm has grown rapidly in domestic and international markets while expanding its management stab very little (total headquarters employment at Benetton in early 1986 amounted to fewer than 250 people). To accomplish this feat, Benetton maintains communications with retailers and minimizes inventories through technologies that support an intensive, two-way flow of informa- tion between the firm's far-flung retailing operations (a thousand stores in at least seven industrial nations) and the northern Italian headquarters of the firm in Ponzano. The future growth of middle management in large manufacturing and nonmanufacturing firms may well be much slower or even nonexistent because of the restructuring of these firms. Much of the work control function formerly performed by supervisors and middle managers is now superfluous increasingly, control and monitoring activities are embod- ied in hardware and software installed on a production line or at a desktop computer or workstation. The displacement (or reduced employment growth) of middle managers within individual firms, however, must not be confused with reductions in the total employment of white-collar workers within the U.S. economy. There will continue to be ample employment
126 TECHNOLOGYAND EMPLOYMENT opportunities for individuals with white-collar managerial qualifications- BLS projections for white-collar and professional occupations (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1986b) forecast growth through 1995 but these opportunities may be located less frequently within a large firm. Another organizational change that is being encouraged in some sectors by the conjunction of advances in information technology, higher re- search costs, and greater international competition is increased interfirm collaboration in product development and manufacture. International collaboration in the development of commercial aircraft, engines, and other products relies heavily on the rapid digital transmission of design and test data through satellite links, as well as on the exchange of design, engineering, and test data and specifications on computer tapes (Brooks and Guile, 1987; Mowery, 19871. Domestic and international technology transfer among firms in many manufacturing industries will increase considerably as a result of collaboration among firms in product research and development. Within firms, as noted in Chapter 2, the successful exploitation of CIM technologies, as well as computer-aided design and manufacturing, fre- quently requires that firms reduce organizational barriers to cooperation among different functional areas. ~ Compton and Gjostein (1986) argue that "the computer will undoubtedly assist in reducing the time required to complete a design and bring it into production. The key to such reductions is the transformation of design from a serial process to a simultaneous one . . ." (p. 94~. In addition, more rapid rates of international technology transfer, as well as intensified international competition, mean that U.S. firms must move new products from laboratory to market more rapidly; in some U.S. firms, this development has contributed to the more extensive use of project teams combining research, design, production engineering, and marketing personnel for product development efforts. New product development periods often can be shortened significantly by increased collaboration between product design and production engineering staffs. In addition, in some U.S. industries, the imperative for more rapid development of new designs and the modification of existing ones, combined with lower direct labor costs resulting from the use of computer-aided manufacturing technologies, may reduce the attractive- ness of offshore assembly and fabrication (Cyert, 1985; Sanderson, 19871. has is true of other changes wrought by the adoption of computer-based technologies, however, the development of project teams does not depend solely on the adoption of computer-integrated or other computer-based manufacturing technologies. Japanese manu- facturing firms, for instance, used multifunction project management teams for a number of years prior to their adoption of computer-based manufacturing technologies (Abegglen and Stalk, 1986).
TECHNOLOGICAL CHANGE AND THE WORK ENVIRONMENT 127 The Structure of the Workplace The adoption of information and computer-based manufacturing tech- nologies will place new demands on individual workers. As was noted previously, the adoption of these technologies in many industries means that functions formerly performed by middle management will move downward within the organizational structure to the teller, clerk, or machine operator. The breadth of the tasks performed by workers in many cases also will expand. As the National Research Council's Committee on Effective Implementation of Advanced Manufacturing Technology (1986) has noted, many jobs in the CIM establishment ". . . include more planning and diagnosis, and both operating and maintenance duties, in recognition that traditional distinctions between such tasks are blurring" (p. 3~. Tasks that formerly were separate can be integrated in a single workstation by the worker with a computer. This expansion in the range of tasks performed by a worker is likely to increase the requirements for employers to provide training in job- related skills, although the job-related skill requirements for entry into a job should not be affected, as noted in Chapter 4. Management has a number of incentives to encourage the acquisition by workers of the capabilities to perform more tasks, or "multiskilling." Coordination is easier when workers can perform a greater variety of activities. Workers also perform better (productivity increases, as does attention to product quality) when they can see the relationship between their job and other jobs, a relationship that becomes clearer when the worker is trained to perform more than one job. From a worker's point of view, multiskilling can lead to higher wages or the retention of current wages. Most workers also find multiskilled jobs to be more interesting and challenging than single-skill jobs. Serious disin- centives to investment by firms in such training arise from its costs, which may be particularly burdensome for small firms, and the fact that it may be difficult for firms to recover the fruits of their investments in training (see Chapter 71. As we noted in Chapter 4, the increased use of advanced manufacturing technologies means that worker productivity will depend more on mental ability than on physical effort. Diagnostic skills will be necessary to recognize a potential problem before a machine, a production cell, or an entire plant shut down and cause expensive production delays. These changes in the duties of workers will force changes in the criteria for selecting, promoting, and rewarding workers in the CIM or office work- place. Moreover, the steady evolution of the technologies used within the office or factory, as well as the greater responsibility of workers for controlling production quality and speed in many industries, means that
128 TECHNOLOGYAND EMPLOYMENT training and retraining in these industries may have to be continuous rather than sporadic. The knowledge requirements and responsibilities of production workers may well come to resemble those of engineers, who have long recognized the need for constant upgrade and "brush-up" training to keep up with changes in their fields. On the one hand, employers and other institutions will have to provide training on a continuous basis; on the other, the work force will have to adapt to these changing requirements. A number of researchers (Appelbaum, 1984; Baran, 1986; U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment, 1986b) have expressed concern about the effects of computer-based technologies on opportunities for internal promo- tion within service and manufacturing firms. Will upward mobility within the workplace be reduced as a consequence of reductions in the skill require- ments for entry-level jobs and increases in the educational qualifications for high-level management positions? These misgivings were echoed in the widespread belief voiced by respondents to the Cambridge Reports (1986) poll that information and computer technologies were moving the U.S. work force toward a two-tiered structure, characterized by a technological elite and a large group of low-skill workers engaged in data entry and hamburger turning. This two-level characterization of the future workplace, however, rests on assertions concerning skills that we contested in Chapter 4; it also predicts changes in the distribution of earnings and income that disagree with the data presented in that chapter. The evidence gathered by this panel on trends in the occupational structure of the U.S. work force does not support the hypothesis that technological change leads to a polarized aggregate occupational structure. Singelmann and Tienda (1985) analyzed data on occupational trends within industries, concluding that during 1970-1980, occupational upgrading, rather than polarization, characterized the U.S. economy. Much of this upgrading reflected changes in the occupational mix within industries, rather than shifts in the relative importance of sectors with contrasting occupational mixes: "This turn-around of the relative importance of intra-industry occupational shifts on total occupational change is-if continued-of major importance, because it implies possibilities for future occupational upgrading even after the industrial transformation towards a service economy has been com- pleted" (Singelmann and Tienda, 1985, p. 64~.2 Technological change thus does not appear to be systematically "deskilling" workers or creating a two-tiered work force, although additional evidence on occupational trends and continued monitoring are needed. 2Similar evidence on changes in the U.S. occupational structure is found in the work by Rosenthal (1985) and Lawrence (1984) discussed in Chapter 4.
TECHNOLOGICAL CHANGE AND THE WORK ENVIRONMENT 129 LABOR-MANAGEMENT RELATIONS AND THE IMPLEMENTATION OF TECHNOLOGICAL CHANGE Many of the previous innovations of the post-1945 period could be accommodated without great changes in the structure of the firm and workplace. Information and computer-based technologies, however, pose fundamental challenges to the existing organization of many firms (as discussed previously) and therefore place great demands on the relation- ships between labor and management in the manufacturing and office workplace. Thus far, U.S. labor and management have been slow to develop creative and cooperative responses to these demands, although there are important and heartening exceptions to this generalization. Nonetheless, we are concerned that managers and workers may not appreciate the need to change many of the management practices and divisions of responsibility that historically have governed their activities. The changes in the structure of the firm and the workplace offered by new technologies in many cases lead to more satisfying, stimulating work. Both labor and management stand to gain from the smooth, rapid adoption of these innovations. Yet such adoption has proceeded slowly within many sectors of the U.S. economy. Moreover, the full productivity gains from the adoption of computer-based manufacturing processes have been realized only slowly, if at all, in many production establishments. In this section, we discuss strategies for managing the adoption of new technologies, drawing on the study by the National Research Council's Committee on the Effective Implementation of Advanced Manufacturing Technology (1986) and on other case study evidence. Human Resources Challenges and Strategies Successful implementation of new technologies often requires consid- erable modification of the tasks performed by individuals in the workplace and the skills required to fill those jobs. Many of these changes apply to both management and labor if workers are to exercise greater control over the pace and character of work, the duties of supervisors and middle management also must be modified. Our examination of the evidence, which is largely anecdotal, has led to the conclusion that "best-practice" (i.e., most effective, equitable, and productive for management and labor) strategies for meeting these challenges involve several elements. First, successful adoption of new technology requires strong assurances from management to the work force concerning job security. These assurances enable management to retain the loyalty and commitment of the work force and may reduce turnover rates among workers who have been retrained at considerable
130 TECHNOLOGYAND EMPLOYMENT cost to the employer. Fundamental components of any adoption strategy thus include job security provisions and extensive retraining programs for managers and workers. Such a strategy appears to yield considerable payoffs for both management and labor, producing a more highly skilled, motivated work force with lower turnover rates. Job classification, seniority, and pay structures may require considerable modification to realize the potential payoffs from the adoption of new technologies. The incentive for both labor and management to implement these changes is great; labor can gain greater job security and skills enhancement, while managers obtain greater control over the structure of tasks within manufacturing and office establishments. The role of supervi- sors also may be altered, as many of their duties-for example, setting production schedules and hours-may be delegated wholly or partly to a work team. The complexity and amount of planning and reorganization that under- pin a successful adoption strategy make it imperative that management begin planning, retraining, and job reclassification, as well as notification of and consultation with the work force, well in advance of the introduc- tion of new technologies. Advance announcement of the adoption of major new technologies and consultation with the work force are central components of a successful strategy. In many cases, the adoption of these technologies, combined with reorganization of the production process, will increase worker responsibility for product quality and production rates. This in turn means that worker involvement in planning the adoption of the production technology can enhance the performance of the new process. In cases in which the characteristics and performance of new technologies are not well understood by managers prior to adoption, worker input into the design and purchase of this equipment can contrib- ute significantly to the productivity of the new technology. Adoption Strategies in the Unionized Workplace There is a long history in this country of union-management bargaining over the erects of technological change. In some industries, this bargaining has resulted in "red-circling" jobs that have had their skills downgraded by technology, a practice that enables the occupant of such a job to retain the same wage for a specified period of time. Firms in such industries as printing also have provided attractive retirement packages to workers faced with displacement. A growing number of union contracts have provisions dealing with these issues. One analysis of 400 such contracts (Bureau of National Affairs, 1986) found that 25 percent had clauses covering the introduction of new technology, a considerable increase from less than 10 percent within a similar sample of 1961 agreements. Fifteen percent of these agreements
TECHNOLOGICAL CHANGE AND THE WORK ENVIRONMENT 131 provided for discussions with or notification of the union prior to the introduction of new technologies; in roughly 6 percent, retraining was required for any displaced worker. Union and worker concerns over the impact of new technologies, job classifications, and work rules on the integrity of the bargaining unit (the union local's size and coverage of the establishment work force) have been addressed in many contracts through retraining and employment security provisions. These provisions stipulate that union members will be retrained to perform the jobs created by technological change that replace jobs previously held by union members. Training programs funded by employers or jointly by union and employer contributions have been adopted in a number of recent contracts. The United Automobile Workers (UAW) contract with General Motors provided for advance notice to the union of the adoption of new technology and created a special union-company committee to deal with technology-related lay- offs. In addition, workers whose jobs are eliminated as a result of technological change are guaranteed employment with full pay and benefits as long as they are willing to retrain (Pascoe and Collins, 19851. A similar scheme has been established under the terms of the 1986 contract between the Communications Workers of America and the American Telephone and Telegraph Corporation, as well as in agreements between the union and various regional operating telephone companies. Comparable guarantees, however, do not exist in other industries in which employment issues are increasingly salient. Katz (1985) and others have noted that collective bargaining between industrial unions and employers over employment security, job reclassi- fication, and other issues related to technology adoption is introducing differences in the financial and other provisions of contracts between a single union and different firms (and different plants operated by a single firm) within an industry. As a result of technological change and increased competitive pressure on workers and management, "pattern bargaining," in which a settlement with one firm largely determined the terms of contracts with all or most other firms in an industry, has declined in importance (Freedman and Fulmer, 19821. Its demise will increase demands on industrial union leaders faced with differences in the financial treatment of members at different firms, as well as pressure from firms to gain contractual agreements no less favorable than those of their compet- itors (Schlesinger, 19871. Impediments to Best-Practice Adoption Strategies The elements of best-practice adoption strategies seem sufficiently prosaic and profitable for both labor and management that serious
132 TECHNOLOGY AND EMPLOYMENT questions arise as to why these policies are not pursued more widely. A number of large manufacturing firms, many of which have unionized work forces, recently have adopted some or all of the elements of such strategies. Many firms have not, however, and we believe that the reasons for this failure extend beyond a lack of information. The pursuit of best-practice adoption strategies requires mutual accom- modation and trust between labor and management. Where labor-man- agement relations historically have been adversarial in tone and charac- ter, the use of these strategies is less likely. In such a situation, the conditions that engender mistrust must be addressed before the adoption of new technologies can be discussed. This may require that labor and management complement intermittent bargaining over wages and job classifications with continuous joint problem-solving sessions that ad- dress general workplace topics. Firms that have used labor-management committees to deal with such issues as worklife quality or workplace safety often have laid the groundwork for dealing with the introduction of new technologies. Even in those workplaces in which labor and management historically have not been in conDict, serious misconceptions on both sides may impede the pursuit of best-practice policies. The manager of the General Electric household appliances plant in Louisville, Kentucky, a model of labor-management cooperation in the adoption of new production tech- nologies that have improved product quality, was amazed at the level of worker interest in the new production and marketing strategies that were an important part of the reorganization of plant operations: We [General Electric-Louisville plant management] set up a series of meetings with foremen which we followed every time with a meeting with all the union stewards in the building. We began by showing a lot of market and business information we had never disclosed to them in the past, partly because it had not occurred to us that they would be interested. But they were! We included information about what was going on elsewhere in the world with respect to the modernization of factories.... They watched and listened with great interest. In the end we all believed that unless we took a major leap ahead in productivity and quality we were going to be overrun. (Stevens, 1983, p. 35; emphasis in original) . The need for consultation with the work force, as well as the loss of managerial powers and responsibilities that may result from many adop- tion strategies, often conflicts with the goals of middle management. For example, middle managers may resist transferring a portion of their power to workers who seek greater involvement in production decisions, as was noted in a recent discussion of participative management: Information is power, and access to it remains a clear badge of rank to managers. Even though many companies are forcing managers to put out information on the
TECHNOLOGICAL CHANGE AND THE WORK ENVIRONMENT 133 number of units produced, costs, and other sensitive issues, the idea still doesn't sit right. Fearing a loss of power, many middle managers torpedoed early participative programs.... (Saporito, 1986, p. 60) Many firms have found that when senior managers communicate clearly their commitment to new forms of production organization and are willing to alter internal incentives and evaluation criteria, middle manag- ers and supervisors are able to overcome their natural reluctance to implement novel procedures. There also may be resistance to restructur- ing job classification and compensation schemes, however, within the leadership of union locals and within the work force in nonunion plants and offices. Managers in nonunion workplaces may resist the develop- ment of formal labor-management consultation mechanisms because these mechanisms may imply recognition of a collective organization representing workers. Another significant impediment to the widespread use of these technol- ogy adoption strategies is their high cost. The ambitious retraining, screening, and reclassification efforts that are an integral element of the success of these strategies are expensive and may be particularly difficult for small firms to sustain. It may also be difficult for firms, no matter what their size, to justify the costs of the strategies relative to their measured benefits. Conventional accounting methods often are unable to measure the productivity and product quality payoffs from the reorganization of the work process, which impedes the adoption of other new manufactur- ing technologies such as robots (Kaplan, 1986~. The savings from lower work force absenteeism and turnover, for example, or higher product quality and shorter product development cycles are not easily captured within conventional accounting methods, which look at individual oper- ations or processing steps and may not account fully for all components of overhead or fixed costs. We are concerned by the slow adoption of new process technologies in some manufacturing industries and the frequent inability of U.S. firms to develop organizational structures that can accommodate and fully exploit the productive potential of these innovations. These problems stem in part from the lack of proficiency of many U.S. managers in evaluating the overall costs, consequences, and benefits of new technologies, as well as the difficulties workers and managers often experience in developing a more fruitful, cooperative relationship within the workplace. Both of these problems must be addressed by workers, managers, and the organizations that train them if the benefits of technological change are to be realized more rapidly and distributed equitably within the U.S. economy.
134 TECHNOLOG Y AND EMPLO YMENT TECHNOLOGICAL CHANGE AND WORKPLACE HEALTH AND SAFETY Ensuring human health and safety during new technology adoption and application is one of the most significant challenges of technological change. The topic, however, is far too complex to address in a single section of this report. Instead, we note and briefly discuss areas in which more study and research are needed. These areas range from the effects on workers of workplace design to the potential use of new methods to try to determine the susceptibility of workers to health effects from exposure to substances in the workplace. We have grouped the issues into three broad categories: (1) new workplace health and safety hazards resulting from technological change; (2) opportunities for greater workplace safety made possible by technological change; and (3) challenges to existing health and safety regulations that arise from the novel environments within which many of these technologies will be applied. Workplace Hazards Created by Technological Change Many of the workplace hazards produced by new technologies are not novel in themselves. For example, the substances to which workers in the microelectronics industry are exposed, such as arsenic compounds, have been present in other manufacturing occupations for years. In the case of the microelectronics industry, it is the novel environment within which exposure is occurring rather than the exposure per se that may require new control strategies. Other worrisome issues include worker exposure to new materials and solvents for which few toxicological data have been compiled. The extended use of video display terminals has highlighted the issue of workplace stress. Workplace stress is not new; fast-paced, high-pressure assembly and clerical occupations in which worker productivity was carefully monitored have characterized many American workplaces throughout this century. Proper design of equipment and the workplace, as well as training, also can minimize the symptoms of eyestrain, back strain, and wrist strain that occur among clerical employees using computer terminals and other electronic displays for extended periods. Technology's Potential for Reducing Workplace Hazards Information and computer-based manufacturing technologies have sig- nificant promise for reducing workplace hazards. Robotics and automatic materials transfer, for example, can reduce lifting and other strenuous, injury-producing tasks; they can also reduce worker handling of hazard
TECHNOLOGICAL CHANGE AND THE WORK ENVIRONMENT 135 ous substances (e.g., through the use of robot painting and welding operations in automobile production). Advanced computer-based tech- nologies for monitoring and correcting chemical and other production processes can reduce the emission of toxic or hazardous substances and enable workers to control such processes from more remote and conse- quently safer locations. Technological change also has improved our ability to monitor worker exposure to various substances through such techniques as the analysis of chemicals or their metabolic products in blood, urine, or exhaled air. Enhanced monitoring technologies allow greater precision in controlling and restricting worker exposure to toxic and other substances. In addition, information technologies have enhanced the ability of research- ers to conduct large-scale exposure and epidemiological studies of health and safety effects. These developments will expand our knowledge of workplace hazards and aid in our choice of more effective control strategies and safer production technologies. Changes in the Work Environment In conjunction with other forces, technological change is altering the structure of the workplace in the United States. As we noted in the first section of this chapter, such change may favor the growth of smaller firms. This phenomenon in turn could affect the level of worker protection from hazards provided by federal regulation. The current enforcement strategy of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, as well as state agencies, relies on a limited number of inspections of larger plants. To the extent that the share of total employment accounted for by larger manufacturing plants declines, an increasing share of the U.S. work force will be located in firms that typically receive limited enforcement attention. In addition, new technologies increasingly will be found in offices rather than on assembly lines; they will also be found in establishments with work forces that include larger shares of women. Employment growth is likely to be most rapid in sectors that historically have not had extensive union representation, which means that internal pressures for monitoring workplace health and safety may be less intense within some firms. Finally, the work force in many firms is likely to include more individuals with a limited understanding of English; additional resources may be required to provide these workers with information about hazards and the training in workplace safety now mandated by law. The environment within which new technologies are applied thus will depart in a number of ways from the workplace that existing federal and state regulatory structures have been designed to monitor.
136 TECHNOLOGYAND EMPLOYMENT This brief survey is intended to highlight important emerging issues in the area of workplace safety and health. Rather than developing specific findings, we wish to ensure that the potential hazards created by these technologies are investigated promptly and then carefully monitored, that efforts are undertaken to exploit the potential of these technologies for reducing workplace safety and health hazards, and that the effectiveness of existing regulatory structures for the workplace of the future receive appropriate consideration.