Industrial robots help American workers to avoid injuries but increase the number of drug- or alcohol-related deaths and mental health problems, a new study published in Labour Economics has found.
According to the study, a one standard deviation increase in robot exposure reduces work-related annual injury rates by approximately 1.2 cases per 100 workers.
But less physical injuries apparently mean more mental health issues, since such robot exposure also resulted in an increase of 37.8 cases per 100,000 workers in drug or alcohol-related deaths.
“On one hand, robots could take some of the most strenuous, physically intensive, and risky tasks, reducing workers’ risk,” said Osea Giuntella, an expert in labor economics and economic demography and an assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh. “On the other hand, the competition with robots may increase the pressure on workers who may lose their jobs or be forced to retrain. Of course, labor market institutions may play an important role, particularly in a transition phase.”
The results were a little different for German workers, though. In Germany, the study showed that a one standard deviation change in robot exposure led to a 4% decline in physical job intensity and a 5% decline in disability. However, there were no particular side effects on mental health or life satisfaction.
The explanation might be due to the differences in German employment laws, according to the scientists.
“Robot exposure did not cause disruptive job losses in Germany; Germany has a much higher employment protection legislation,” Giuntella explained. “Our findings suggests that, in contexts where workers were less protected, competition with robots was associated with a rise in mental health problems.”