A Reflection on World Futures Day 2024: NIOSH Efforts to Help Build a Better Tomorrow

Posted on by Jessica MK Streit, MS, PhD, CHES®


Future Day was first celebrated worldwide on March 1, 2012 as a forward-looking reflection on all the possibilities the future holds for humanity.1 Just two years later, the global think tank Millennium Project helped expand the unofficial holiday into what is now recognized as World Futures Day.2 World Futures Day is structured as an open, free-of-charge, all-day event where internationally-recognized futurists, foresight leaders, and members of the public voluntarily come together from across the world to talk about the challenges, opportunities, and responsibilities the future holds for its global citizens.,3

The 11th annual World Futures Day kicked off March 1, 2024 under the theme of “Building a Better Tomorrow.”4 The virtual conversation began on Zoom at noon local time in New Zealand and traveled west to a new time zone every hour until concluding 24 hours later in Hawaii. Because World Futures Day operates under Chatham House Rule, the identities and affiliations of the contributing participants cannot be disclosed.5

Key themes from the rich World Futures Day discussions about the future held in the Eastern, Central, and Mountain time zones of North America are summarized below. Examples of NIOSH efforts to advance occupational safety and health (OSH) research and practice in each important thematic area are also highlighted.

Theme #1: Technology

Technological advances, including automation, artificial intelligence, machine learning, wearables, the Internet of Things, the seemingly limitless potential of new software applications, and other emerging technologies will continue to change and evolve. New challenges and concerns around data privacy (the ability of individuals to control their personal information), data sovereignty (the laws and regulations around how data are generated, stored, and analyzed), and data ethics (the moral obligations related to collecting, protecting, and using information) may also emerge. It will be important to understand and keep pace with these changes.

NIOSH Efforts Related to Technology: For years, NIOSH has maintained active research programs in the areas of Direct Reading and Sensor Technologies, Occupational Robotics, and Nanotechnology. To help work from these and other relevant programs reach a wide audience, a number of NIOSH Science Blogs address technology, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, robotics, sensors, and other wearable technologies. NIOSH has also included several aspects of technology—including technological job displacement, artificial intelligence, robotics, and work-related technologies—as priorities in its Future of Work Initiative (FOW) and FOW Research Agenda, which serve as guiding frameworks for research and practice activities.6,7 In addition, NIOSH has engaged in mentorship opportunities to build capacity in data ethics and technoethics within the public health community.8

Theme #2: Life Skills Development

As we look to “build a better tomorrow” for new generations, it will be important to consider ways to build important life skills into education experiences so children may seamlessly integrate the skills as they enter adulthood.

NIOSH Efforts Related to Life Skills Development: NIOSH has a longstanding history of research on young workers. In 2013, the Institute launched the Safe Skilled Ready Workforce (SSRW) Program to create and evaluate training programs that provide foundational OSH competencies for young workers.9 Youth@Work–Talking Safety is an evidence-based, free-of-charge OSH curriculum designed to help prepare young people to be actively aware of work-related risks and participate in promoting safe and healthy workplaces. Today, the NIOSH SSRW Program has expanded to provide similar training for contingent workers and workers with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Theme #3: Critical Futures Thinking

Remaining in a ‘post-something’ mindset, where we are always reacting to what has already happened, may eventually become very problematic. It is important to identify and speak proactively and affirmatively about our preferred visions for the present and the future. With the rise of advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence, it is also important to encourage and foster critical and problem-based thinking. This includes accepting that the future is not a fixed and unchangeable endpoint that we are moving towards. Instead, it is recognizing that there are many possibilities for what the future may be, and different groups of people may experience the future differently. Exactly how the future will unfold for us depends in large part on the decisions we make now and actions we start taking today.

NIOSH Efforts Related to Critical Futures Thinking: In 2021, NIOSH established a Strategic Foresight Initiative to help broaden the Institute’s view of the future and increase our futures readiness. Strategic foresight is an action-oriented discipline that helps us look at the future through a more proactive lens. The practice of foresight involves systematically gathering evidence about the future, combining that evidence to create multiple possible futures, extracting the implications from those futures, and using the insights gained to inform present-day strategic decisions an action plans.10 To date, researchers from NIOSH have applied strategic foresight methods to explore the research and service implications of four possible futures for OSH.11 They also adopted a foresight approach to investigate how to prepare the OSH workforce for future disruptions like the COVID-19 pandemic.12

The three themes highlighted above were not the only key points raised during the 24 hours of World Futures Day. When available, additional results from the broader discussion will be linked to this blog. Similarly, the examples of NIOSH work shared above are just some ways our research and practice efforts align with topics that have been identified as important to “building a better tomorrow.” Let’s not wait until World Futures Day 2025 to talk about the future again, though. NIOSH wants to hear from you now! What key factors do you think will influence the future, especially when it comes to work-related safety and health? What else might the OSH community start doing today to help “build a better tomorrow” for US workers?

Jessica MK Streit, MS, PhD, CHES® is Deputy Director of the Office of Research Integration at NIOSH.



1 Saenz, A. (2012, Mar). Happy Future Day! March 1st, 2012 Marks the Start of this Soon to be Great Tradition. Celebrate Change! https://singularityhub.com/2012/03/01/happy-future-day-march-1st-2012-marks-the-start-of-this-soon-to-be-great-tradition-celebrate-change/

2 Di Berardo, M. (2022). The World Future Day Method: A 24-hour round-the-world global discussion. World Futures Review. 14(2-4), 165-179. DOI: 10.1177/19467567221090539

3 Di Berardo, M., Di Zio, S., & Fontanella, L. (2023). World Futures Day 2022: A mixed method approach to identify topics of a global futures agenda. Futures, 154, 103244. DOI: 10.1016/j.futures.2023.103244

4 De Berardo, M. (2024, Feb). Join the Global Conversation on Building a Better Tomorrow. https://www.millennium-project.org/world-futures-day-2024-march-1/

5 Chatham House. (n.d.). Chatham House Rule. https://www.chathamhouse.org/about-us/chatham-house-rule

6 Tamers, SL, Streit, J, Pana-Cryan, R, Ray, T, Syron, L, Flynn, MA, …, Howard, J. (2020). Envisioning the future of work to safeguard the safety, health, and well-being of the workforce: A perspective from the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 63(12), 1063=1084. DOI: 10.1002/ajim.23183.

7 NIOSH (2021). The NIOSH future of work initiative research agenda. By Tamers S, Pana-Cryan R, Ruff T, Streit J, Flynn M, Childress A, Chang CC, Novicki E, Ray T, Fosbroke D, Geraci C. Cincinnati, OH: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 2022-105. DOI: 10.26616/NIOSHPUB2022105.

8 Tisdale-Pardi, J. (2022, Aug). Students Making Their Mark at NIOSH. NIOSH Science Blog. https://blogs.cdc.gov/niosh-science-blog/2022/08/25/interns/

9 Okun, AH, Guerin, RJ, & Schulte, PA. (2016). Foundational workplace safety and health competencies for the emerging workforce. Journal of Safety Research, 59, 43-51. DOI: 10.1016/j.jsr.2016.09.004

10 Streit, JMK, Felknor, SA, Edwards, NT, & Howard, J. (2021). Leveraging strategic foresight to advance worker safety, health, and well-being. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18, 8477. DOI: 10.3390/ijerph18168477

11 Felknor SA, Streit JMK, Edwards NT, Howard J. Four Futures for Occupational Safety and Health. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2023;20(5):4333. doi: 10.3390/ijerph20054333.

12 Streit JMK, Felknor SA, Edwards NT, Caruso DL, Howard J. (2024) Preparing the occupational safety and health workforce for future disruptions. American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 67(1), 55-72. DOI: 10.1002/ajim.23548.

Posted on by Jessica MK Streit, MS, PhD, CHES®

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