Technological advancement brings advancements in worker safety


As I was perusing the liberty networks, I came across an article from The Economics of Liberty called “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Robots.” The article explains how automated labor can replace human labor and how that leads to economic development. It is similar to the excellent piece by the Voluntaryist Reader, “But Wouldn’t Robots Take Over?

What struck me about this article was the picture used at the beginning.

This is of course the iconic “Lunch atop a Skyscraper” picture with some robots added in to replace a few of the workers.

Why did it stand out to me?

I’m sure this was not the intent of the picture, but it brilliantly shows how technology and automation makes us safer. The obvious and direct way this is achieved is that by using robots (or any other type of machinery), you decrease the number of laborers needed to perform work. And in the case of the skyscraper, while you may take precautions to ensure safety, there is risk inherent to working on almost the 69th floor of a building. When you’re able to replace people with machines, you decrease your risk of injury.

A great example of this is the Scott Meat Processing plant in New Zealand:

The plant is fully automated, which means that employees no longer have to work around rotating equipment, cutting surfaces, and swinging ham hocks. They have eliminated the day-to-day risk of injury.

The indirect benefit to safety is that automation and technological advancements usually replace the most “disposable” (for lack of a better term) or lower-skilled jobs. The use of steam shovels meant that there needed to be fewer workers to dig holes. This replacement of humans with machines allows workers to focus their time on developing more skilled labor. When laborers become more skilled, they become more difficult to replace. Anyone can swing a pick in a mine, so if there’s a big enough labor pool, what incentive other than altruism is there for an employer to keep his workers safe when the next guy will be just about as good as the last? There is an economic incentive to keep workers safe when the loss of time due to injury and death has negative impacts on the business.

Let’s not stifle innovation—there are health benefits to go along with the economic prosperity technological advancement brings!

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