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Americans who work alongside robots more likely to suffer negative mental health effects: study

“On one hand, robots could take some of the most strenuous, physically intensive, and risky tasks reducing workers' risk. On the other hand, the competition with robots may increase the pressure on workers who may lose their jobs or be forced to retrain,” one researcher said.
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Story at a glance


  • Researchers analyzed data on workplace injuries in the U.S., finding that injuries were reduced by 1.2 cases per 100 workers in regions with one standard deviation increase in robot exposure. 

  • But in regions where there were significant numbers working with robots, there was an increase of 37.8 cases per 100,000 workers in drug or alcohol related deaths. 

  • The study found that in Germany, the same one standard deviation change in robot exposure led to a 4 percent decline in physical job intensity and a 5 percent decline in disability, without negative health effects.

American workers who work alongside robots are more likely to suffer negative mental health effects, despite being less prone to physical injury, according to a recent study.  

For the study, researchers analyzed data on workplace injuries in the U.S., finding that injuries were reduced by 1.2 cases per 100 workers in regions with one standard deviation increase in robot exposure. But in regions where there were significant numbers working with robots, there was an increase of 37.8 cases per 100,000 workers in drug or alcohol related deaths.  

Osea Giuntella, an expert in labor economics and economic demography and an assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh, said in a news release that although there’s evidence how robots affect workers’ employment and wages, researchers “still know very little about the effects on physical and mental health.” 

“On one hand, robots could take some of the most strenuous, physically intensive, and risky tasks reducing workers’ risk,” Giuntella said. “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.” 


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Researchers also evaluated data on how automation affected German workers. They found a similar decrease in physical injury, but they found no significant change in mental health outcomes. The study found that in Germany, the same one standard deviation change in robot exposure led to a 4 percent decline in physical job intensity and a 5 percent decline in disability. 

Giuntella said this difference might be due to laws designed to protect Germany’s workforce.  

“Robot exposure did not cause disruptive job losses in Germany; Germany has a much higher employment protection legislation,” Giuntella said.  

“Our evidence finds that, in both contexts, robots have a positive impact on the physical health of workers by reducing injuries and work- related disabilities,” Giuntella continued. “However, our findings suggests that, in contexts where workers were less protected, competition with robots was associated with a rise in mental health problems.” 

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