What will the health and safety profession look like in 10 years’ time? We asked members for their predictions.
Danny Michael Hole GradIOSH
I’m hopeful for a brighter future for safety and believe three main drivers will dramatically change how it is managed.
- A boardroom takeover by Generations Y and Z and millennials, who have a deeper consciousness of social justice, will impact corporate safety culture, most notably in Western society.
- The inherent safe design of equipment – from domestic to manufacturing – will ensure that exposure to harmful hazards and associated risks will be reduced considerably.
- The rise of artificial intelligence will reduce human error beyond what we can possibly imagine, and, as time progresses, each ‘upgrade’ will be better than the one before.
The unsafe world I grew up in is slowly fading, and the next generation will no doubt be better at implementing layers of protection.
Derek Maylor Tech IOSH
Smaller work units, such as SMEs and micro-businesses, will change trade union membership accordingly. Unions will become more ‘all-round care’ for members and look after health, environment and welfare as much outside the workplace as in it – even without negotiating rights.
Generic risk assessments and safe methods of work will be accessible from a central database to be tailored to the workplace, as will information on life outside the workplace, such as how to check local air or water quality.
Unions will become more localised, with coordinated campaigns bringing together bodies such as residents’ associations to campaign on single issues that affect the safety and health of members, their families and their communities.
As such, unions like the CWU in the UK will become a trade and community union. There’s no use being healthy at work but dying because of domestic issues.
Jonathan Beck Tech IOSH
In the UK, local councils will have extensive regulatory powers to enforce health, safety and wellbeing legislation in private companies in their boroughs.
Corporate investment in OSH will be influenced by health, safety and welfare (HS&W) return, and much research will have been completed outlining how much return can be expected from every £1 spent in the management of HS&W. Social return on investment (ROI) will be factored into HS&W ROI calculations to help determine clearer costs of social housing and the safety issues having an impact on the social housing market.
Data protection and revised British Global Standards will be the biggest influencers of compliance.
Schools will have begun teaching HS&W in primary schools, and the topic will be available to study all the way to advanced level in secondary schools.
Keith Atkinson CMIOSH
In the UK, fatality figures will be little changed; RIDDOR-specified injuries likewise. The reason? Lack of political will. The levels will be seen as acceptable post-Brexit.
There may even be a legal swing towards more personal accountability and responsibility (for example, why should the trespasser be able to blame the duty holders for the harm they experience when they should not even be there?).
Digital redundancy will become a major issue (for example, trains built to last 30 years will still be mechanically serviceable but be scrapped because their digital control systems cannot be maintained). Two questions will arise
around digital silicon-based intelligence (SI):
- If an employer lets SI imbued with ‘ethics’ come to harm or be exposed to unnecessary risk, is that a breach of the Health and Safety at Work (HSW) Act?
- If ‘ethical’ SI allows a human being to be harmed or exposed to risk in the workplace can the ‘employer’ of the worker and owner of the intelligence be held accountable under the HSW Act, or should charges be directed towards the developer of the intelligence?
Sara Williams Tech IOSH
I believe we will see a big increase in repetitive strain injury caused by excessive use of smartphones and tablets, as well as a rise in reported eye strain issues due to excessive use of computer screens.
Vaping will have been proven to be detrimental to health and will be the next big scare.
Mental health will still be an issue and as much as organisations feel they are ‘paving the way’ with its management, the archaic belief that people need to sit at their desks for 37 hours a week from nine to five will still be a factor.
The risks posed by employees’ driving will hopefully decrease, thanks to new technologies such as automatic braking.
Michael Gowen Tech IOSH
OSH is now at a point where there is a crossover with HR and health, safety, quality and environment (HSQE). This needs to be managed and recognised – for example, with mental health. We must ensure there is coordination and staff and colleagues are not confused. We must win the media over, not blame health and safety, and educate the public. As Peter Drucker said: ‘The best way to predict the future is to create it.’
Dom Cooper CFIOSH
No impact on the number of serious injuries and fatalities. There will be a flatline from 1990 to 2030.
Philip Lancashire GradIOSH
I think we will see a downturn in occupational conditions such as lung disease. But because these diseases do not show themselves for many years, we may find an increase in the future from those who have been exposed in the past. But with the work OSH professionals are doing, I hope this stays low.
Core regulations will not change; however, due to the increase in technology and how we work (home-working, hot-desking, increased smartphone use as a computer), regulations will have to be adapted and updated to address new risks and hazards.
Mental health will continue to play a big part in society. Workplaces will have to constantly and consistently manage mental health effectively through collaboration with their employees.
Our roles as OSH professionals will continue to grow. How do we ensure people are safe when home-working? Flexibly working? Working with new technology (such as robots)? We may see some hazards and risks reduce, but new risks will take their place.
Callum Irvine CMIOSH
It seems inevitable that a great deal of how work is performed – and, in turn, how data is collected from
those performing the work – will have changed by 2030, likely leveraging a great deal of automation.
But the most fundamental accelerator to OSH performance will be in how data is analysed and aggregated. It feels reasonable to think that data streams will flow up from site, to company, to supply chain, to regulator with ease and at scale – drastically shortening the time it takes us to learn from, and ultimately prescribe solutions to, OSH risk.
In a connected world, regulators and standard-makers learning about risk at scale would cascade updated standards and guidance down through industry. The format of this communication cascade will be optimised for machine learning – allowing draft changes to organisation-specific procedures to be made automatically.
By 2030, the role of the OSH professional will therefore have tilted towards being a highly valuable, technical programme management function – guiding the organisation to implement an ever-increasing rate of data-informed changes to improve OSH standards.
Iván Ciudad-Valls GradIOSH
COVID-19 will make a serious difference to OSH, not only because of the virus itself, but because of the socioeconomic upheaval in its wake. COVID-19 is not the only pandemic taking lives: the ILO (International Labour Organization) indicates that around 7500 workers die daily due to unsafe and unhealthy working conditions around the world and more than 374 million workers suffer from non-fatal occupational accidents and work-related diseases every year.
Even in the pre-COVID world, job insecurity and the lack of decent work was a constant feature in the global labour market, and we accepted this with relative resignation. Need makes us underestimate risk. This is why, now more than ever, integrating leadership and OSH professionals should emerge in our companies and institutions to guarantee our most precious gift: health.
No one was prepared for this situation, and to some extent, all of us are overwhelmed. COVID-19 has placed OSH professionals in the eye of the storm as they are asked to guarantee the safety and health of the workers in an exceptional context in which we have witnessed a lack of foresight and preparation, a scarcity of personal protective equipment (PPE) and the absence of a vaccine. Neither governments or the World Health Organization have been able to prevent disease or protect people, leading to consequences such as the infection of, for example, at least 25% of health workers in Spain.
And we are not even taking into consideration the great quantity of the affected and deceased citizens. It’s clear we have all made mistakes.
The main challenge for companies is to be able to find the appropriate balance between financial recovery and the safety and health of its workers. It is a great challenge and a great opportunity to do things better than we have so far. This is not really new: the challenge has always been the total integration of health and safety throughout the business process. Today, more than ever, companies should rely on OSH professionals in the workplace, who, even when fulfilling an extremely important role, seem to be invisible and lack recognition in companies and society in general. Companies with well-integrated health and safety in the workplace will probably be more likely to return to ‘ordinary life’. Nevertheless, SMEs, micro-businesses and self-employed workers will be most affected.
Many countries have applied strategies such as remote working, or telework. Telework, in general, is a good solution under normal conditions, in some professions, and until the COVID-19 crisis, in Spain 7.9% of employed people opted for working this way. However, this extraordinary new situation has forced the hasty implementation of telework, which makes its consequences and results less desirable than those we could expect under normal circumstances.
For example, confinement at home, often with relatives or dependent persons, is not, the best scenario in which to test the telework formula. Other variables, which should be conveniently implemented within companies, have not been taken into account: for example, schedule management in general lines (work hours or time for rest, arrangement of the workplace, the capacity of the worker to fulfill all requirements of their company, etc), work methods (how, when, or to whom, and, in what way, reports are made, schedules for the meetings, etc); specific training (ergonomic and psychosocial standards, or technology-related training, among others), ownership and work equipment maintenance, and the costs involved in working from home, such as insurance coverage. Telework requires planning, pilot testing and time, none of which were available.
Telework, like any other professional practice, also presents ergonomic and psychosocial risks, such as those associated to occupational hygiene – and not exclusively biological agents.
In OSH there are many more invisible than visible enemies. Their effects are acute and materialise often in the form of underreported occupational diseases. Undoubtedly, COVID-19 also represents a new challenge at a psychosocial level for companies and society alike, since in the short to medium term, there might be fear of infection and this could lead society to stigmatise or even to discriminate against specific workers. The most vulnerable groups, which should be urgently prioritised since their mental health may be affected, are those essential workers, especially those health professionals in our first line of defence.
This crisis brings to light that, in essence, we are a reactive not proactive society and we have great deficiencies in communication. However, it has also shown that we are a collaborative society with a large capacity for cooperation and adaptation.
Ultimately, there are many lessons that we can extract in terms of OSH from the current situation, but we have many more to learn. Thus, OSH professionals still have a long way to go.
As the UK economy declines in a race to the bottom on taxation and deregulation, the pressure to reduce the perceived impact of safety on industry will increase.
This will result in the removal of safety regulation protection for UK workers, which will inevitably lead to a rise in workplace events leading to accidents or deaths.
Industry self-policing will become the process by which organisations are judged, with the lowest common denominator becoming the standard. The strengthening of anti-trade union regulation will remove a valued pressure group from the workforce, giving the government free rein to reduce protection further.
All this will coincide with a rise in the UK workforce as deregulation drives down salaries and our imports will be restricted to high-value items only. Low-cost, low-skilled jobs on a relatively low rate will cheapen the value of life in the UK.