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Real-time communication, Big Data, human–machine cooperation, remote sensing, monitoring and process control, autonomous equipment and interconnectivity are becoming major assets in modern industry. As the fourth industrial revolution or Industry 4.0 becomes the predominant reality, it will bring new paradigm shifts, which will have an impact on the management of occupational health and safety (OHS). In the midst of this new and accelerating industrial trend, are we giving due consideration to changes in OHS imperatives? Are the OHS consequences of Industry 4.0 being evaluated properly? Do we stand to lose any of the gains made through proactive approaches? Are there rational grounds for major concerns? In this article, we examine these questions in order to raise consciousness with regard to the integration of OHS into Industry 4.0. It is clear that if the technologies driving Industry 4.0 develop in silos and manufacturers’ initiatives are isolated and fragmented, the dangers will multiply and the net impact on OHS will be negative. As major changes are implemented, previous gains in preventive management of workplace health and safety will be at risk. If we are to avoid putting technological progress and OHS on a collision course, researchers, field experts and industrialists will have to collaborate on a smooth transition towards Industry 4.0.
The term “Industry 4.0” referring to a fourth industrial revolution is a very recent neologism. The rise of digital technology, artificial intelligence, the Internet of things and networked, “smart” and responsive devices is seen more and more as providing means of responding to changing consumer demand more quickly and efficiently. This vision has gone well beyond equipment in factories and is becoming a global revolution that will soon transform the very notion of what constitutes a manufacturing facility. Although scientific publication on the subject of Industry 4.0 is quite effervescent, the number of articles that raise the question of how to incorporate OHS remains small. Most articles are focused on the new technologies driving this revolution and mention worker health and safety only briefly. Published research on the integration of OHS in the Industry 4.0 context is cited rarely. It is clear that if the technologies driving Industry 4.0 are developed in silos and manufacturers’ OHS initiatives remain isolated, workplace hazards will multiply during the transition period and some previously improved accident prevention records will be tarnished. Researchers, field experts and industrialists will have to collaborate on the implementation of measures based on a comprehensive vision of managing change in order to ensure a smooth and safe transition to the new paradigm.