In 1993, the Internet pioneer Robert Metcalf declared that the value of a network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users. Metcalf was talking about telecommunications, but his observation has become so ingrained in technological circles that it’s considered a defining principle of the Internet age. Metcalf’s Law, as it’s now known, was a constant presence at AIHA’s Fall Conference in Orlando last October, where many speakers addressed the potential and pitfalls of our increasingly networked world. The conference highlighted many of the trends that are affecting the practice of industrial hygiene and informing AIHA’s program of work. THE VIRTUAL VENEER Dumpsters that let garbage collectors know they’re full. Bridges that warn drivers when ice is beginning to form. Eyeglasses that display virtual schematics of the complex machinery you’re trying to fix. Whether coming soon (the bridges) or already here (there are dumpsters in Europe that have their own Twitter feeds), these smart machines will rapidly become familiar features of daily life. Sometime in the 2020s, according to Michael Rogers, a futurist who gave the Fall Conference keynote address on Oct. 26, every object we rely on will be connected to the Internet, endlessly adding its stream of data to the general torrent. This phenomenon is known as the “Internet of Things” (IoT), and it’s already layering a virtual veneer over brick-and-mortar reality. “We’re in the process of what I call the virtualization of the world,” Rogers said. “All of us will be connected to the Internet all the time, either consciously through our devices or unconsciously through the objects around us.”
 
The implications of such a world are striking to consider. For children who grow up in the IoT era, Rogers said, a temporary loss of Internet connection will be even more disruptive than power outages were to earlier generations, since losing Internet will be like losing half of their world. “By the early ’20s, we will have to teach kids what ‘offline’ means, because online will be the normal state of things,” Rogers said. “Everything you own will work better when it’s connected to the Internet—or maybe work at all.” Smart glasses are one IoT application that holds promise for occupational health and safety practitioners. Wearing such a device, an OHS professional walking through a facility could access digital safety data sheets about the chemicals stored in containers, or determine whether an employee engaged in a particular task has been properly trained and is wearing the correct PPE. Thanks to technology, the very notion of “the workplace” as distinct from other types of places will continue to diminish: driven by steady population growth, “virtual work will become much more common and popular,” Rogers said, as more workers and employers adapt to what will soon be unceasingly nightmarish traffic. (“If you think it’s crowded on the streets right now, just wait,” Rogers warned.) To younger millennials raised on Minecraft and Facebook, virtual work will seem natural. But Rogers foresees challenges in the regulatory area as corporations resist attempts to hold them accountable for the health and safety of workers in these “highly distributed” workplaces. Rogers also predicts no relief for the beleaguered media industry, which has been unable to replace its print-based business model with something equally profitable for the digital age. He noted that traditional journalism has historically been a force for progress on issues of workplace health and safety, and journalism’s decline will force OHS practitioners into a new role when dealing with the media. “Beat reporters are not going to know as much about science, industry, and law as beat reporters 20 years ago,” Rogers said. “It’s important to recognize now that you need to be educators when you talk to the media. Opponents of workplace safety are doing their very best to provide that kind of education.”
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AIHA’s Fall Conference Highlights Trends in Technology
The Network Effect
BY KAY BECHTOLD AND ED RUTKOWSKI
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Lunch Panel Addresses Context in Risk Assessment
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thesynergist | TOC | NEWSWATCH | DEPARTMENTS | COMMUNITY
The Network Effect
AIHA’s Fall Conference Highlights Trends in Technology
BY KAY BECHTOLD AND ED RUTKOWSKI
img_201601digitalextrabutton
Lunch Panel Addresses Context in Risk Assessment
Tap on icon to view media.
Lunch Panel Addresses Context in Risk Assessment
 
Thanks to technology, industrial hygienists have access to more exposure data than ever before. At the same time, workers can collect data on their own using their smart phones. Are these developments making it easier or more difficult for industrial hygienists to influence workers’ behavior? Fred Boelter, Guy Colonna, and Steven Jahn offered their opinions at a networking luncheon during AIHA’s 2015 Fall Conference in Orlando. Video of the full panel discussion is available on YouTube.
 
Lunch Panel Addresses Context in Risk Assessment
 
Thanks to technology, industrial hygienists have access to more exposure data than ever before. At the same time, workers can collect data on their own using their smart phones. Are these developments making it easier or more difficult for industrial hygienists to influence workers’ behavior? Fred Boelter, Guy Colonna, and Steven Jahn offered their opinions at a networking luncheon during AIHA’s 2015 Fall Conference in Orlando. Video of the full panel discussion is available on YouTube.