Creating a Safer Future
As OSH professionals it’s important to reflect on our vision, mission and values to consider what defines us, the work we undertake and the journey we all take.
There were many positive aspects to OSH in the last decade, with a focus on delivering exceptional standards, including the excellently executed London 2012 Olympics where, for the first time in Olympic history, there were no fatalities and an accident rate one third the industry average.
Yet there are many challenges that lie ahead. Here, Louise Hosking, founder and director of Hosking Associates predicts the future of OSH in 2020 and beyond.
Construction and Asbestos
As we enter a new decade, we celebrate 20 years since asbestos was banned from common use in the UK, but there are countries (including Russia, China and USA), where it is still used and/or produced for export. It would be a positive step in the right direction if these countries can recognise the dangers of this substance and legislate accordingly.
I hope we will see the Construction (Design & Management) Regulations in 2015 evolve to continue to expect more from designers and project teams. For those who have embraced these changes it has definitely provided greater control of their supply chains.
We have seen an unprecedented rise in the use of technology. There will be even greater automatization from 2020 and our interactions with robots will create new OSH.
Over the next decade, technology will be used to monitor and check effectiveness, worker health and productivity. In the same way we track our steps, it will be possible to collate data on posture, movement, fatigue, sleep, and even if someone is wearing the right PPE for a task.
Virtual reality will become more accessible and will be increasingly used for OSH training, capturing data on how workers perform, especially as an alternative to training in real high-risk environments. However, the lack of people contact and real hands-on supervision risks turning this approach into gaming, which may not reduce risk in the manner initially anticipated.
Mental Health/Wellness – Fatigue and Sleep Deprivation
As we strive to make things seem easier, we have designed a world which has become increasingly complex. There is less time to think through an issue mindfully in our rush to a search engine to continually analyse rather than discuss and communicate on a personal and creative level.
Mental Health strategies will become more established and will create a new way of doing business which is more ‘people focused’, especially if the HSE enforces expected standards. Hopefully we will see boundaries placed on our increasingly ambiguous 24/7 world, yet I expect fatigue and sleep will continue to become a significant issue.
In 2020 there will be a changed stance towards effective leadership, and new approaches guided by occupational psychology and mindfulness will become important. We will re-learn the art of prioritisation and time management, but we must avoid becoming human robots.
Working Structure and Standards – Creating New Health Concerns
The growth of the gig economy will continue. Regulating this sector and protecting these workers will become increasingly difficult. Lone worker initiatives to meet, to see each other, to speak across time zones and around the world will become vital to fight loneliness, which I predict will become a new health concern.
Criminals will continue to operate and traffic people to work in low paid, poor conditions. The extent of modern slavery within so called civilised society will become more apparent and greater legislative controls will be needed to ensure supply chains around the world are protecting the most vulnerable.
OSH Industry Approaches
We are already starting to see a rejection of the type of OSH management which involves control, restriction, rules and autocratic, persuasive, hierarchical management. Going back to basics will be important; skills around empathy, curiosity, compromise, resilience and tact will be required. I believe businesses will work together more and start to look outside of specific sectors and learn from each other.
Recent case law has seen restrictions placed on legal privilege in OSH cases for the purposes of reaching root cause. I can see this being extended to remove even more restrictions to understand why and how decisions were made. The consequences of Grenfell will be far reaching, and we will see multiple personal prosecutions of Directors and Company Officers which will set a precedent for those who choose not to embrace the spirit of OSH legislation.
I predict we will see more directors and decision makers jailed for longer. The courts will impose fines which will take the worst offenders out of business and they will clamp down on phoenix companies who close down and re-open under a different name with the same directors.
New Vigilance – as we leave the EU
Data and targeted independent research by the next generation of academics will highlight trends in health and sickness linked to work, lifestyle and what we do in ways we have not yet fully assessed. Risks we currently consider as being acceptable will be re-evaluated. For example, in the same way extreme physical contact in football, rugby and other sports is now being researched due to links with brain diseases and injuries.
As we leave the EU, the UK will have a choice to de-regulate OSH, but this will be politically sensitive. Where OSH may have once been a business “top priority”, protecting cyber security and supply chains means the focus shifts to keep things moving.
From an OSH perspective we could see a rise in illnesses and disease due to exposure to solar radiation, heat, cold and poor sanitation. We may experience more resistant disease which we cannot control. A combination of atmospheric pollutants and exposure to occupational hazards will reduce life expectancy especially in developing nations.
As an industry we need to find positive actionable ways to deal with these challenges as they arise and support others in protecting themselves and their employees from newly scrutinised hazards.
Learning from the Past
Our incident and accident statistics in the UK compare favourably on the world stage but this has plateaued. Personally, I believe we can still do better but not by approaching OSH as we have always done. In order to do better yet it is important to learn from the lessons of our past, consider basic OSH principals, and maintain constant vigilance. Complacency is not our friend.
The next generation naturally values diversity, inclusion and fairness. They are likely to not only have multiple jobs but multiple careers. With any luck, a good proportion will consider becoming future OSH leaders, and they will be the ones to look back at the end of this coming decade.