Many organisations understand the concept of setting an occupational safety and health (OSH) strategy to plan for the future, but how do they identify potential threats and opportunities that could affect or change their approach to it? Michael Edwards GradIOSH considers.
Identified threats and opportunities to an organisation significantly affect an organisation’s OSH strategy. These can be internal or external. Internal threats and opportunities usually are identified to senior management via management review. These can be threats such as accidents, or can be opportunities such as evidence of good practices. External threats and opportunities can be more difficult to identify, however. For example, if changes in OSH legislation will radically affect the operation of an organisation, its strategy will have to reflect these changes. This is where horizon scanning can come in.
What is horizon scanning?
Horizon scanning is a systematic examination of information to identify potential threats, risks, emerging issues, and opportunities allowing for better preparedness and the incorporation of mitigation and exploitation into the policy-making process.1
Based on this definition, horizon scanning can be used to identify both internal and external threats to organisations. The world is ever-changing, and organisations need to respond well to these changes to be successful.
The Institute of Risk Management (IRM) stated in Horizon Scanning: A Practitioner’s Guide: 'If organisations manage their operations on the basis that previous success will ensure the future success of their business or operation, they are building-in failure through an inability to adapt to the changing environment. The world today is increasingly subjected to disruptive change. Present and future conditions are changing increasingly quickly due to interconnected activities and events, and decision making has become more complex as a result.'
It is crucial for organisations to also plot their horizon. Is it a global horizon? Industry specific? Company-wide? Local? This helps focus the efforts of the people involved in horizon scanning effectively.
There are a number of different techniques that organisations can use to effectively horizon scan:
- Forecasting: using qualitative and quantitative techniques, including historical data and statistics; individual and collective judgement; and environmental monitoring
- Driver mapping: using an analytical tool such as STEEPLE/M (societal, technological, economic, environmental, political, legal, ethical/media) or PESTLE (political, economic, societal, technological and legal) to consider a wide range of potential sources of future risk
- Trend analysis: using mathematical techniques on historical data to predict potential trends
- Scenario planning: looking at possible future states on the basis of different starting states
- Stress testing: testing how the organisation copes in the face of a range of potential situations.
All of these techniques can influence OSH strategy. This is especially important for areas such as risk identification, assessment, and mitigation.
So why don’t organisations use horizon scanning? There are a number of reasons.
- Knowledge: there could be due to lack of knowledge of horizon scanning techniques. These can get quite complicated and outputs can be vague if not use properly.
- Time: horizon scanning techniques are time-consuming. A STEEPLE/M workshop, for example, can take hours, if not days to complete properly.
- Resources: organisations might not have the resources to undertake this, as technical specialists and experts may be needed to implement effectively.
Michael Edwards is an OSH content developer at IOSH.