Report reveals how future working styles will increase health and safety risks
A new review by British Safety Council and Robertson Cooper brings together the latest evidence into how work is likely to change in the future, what the probable impact will be on people's physical and mental wellbeing, and what employers, trade unions, educators and government should do now to prepare for the future.
The report, ‘Future risk: Impact of work on health, safety and wellbeing’, proposes that the following risks will become more prevalent in the future:
- Increasing pace of innovation, work insecurity and drive for efficiency will put more pressure on people that can lead to stress and poor mental wellbeing;
- Maintaining the safety, health and wellbeing of older workers will become more pressing;
- Environmental risks from work activities will grow; and
- A growth in unexpected risks when new ways of working combine humans with new materials, robotics and artificial intelligence that connect people across the globe.
Sir Cary Cooper CBE, Founding Director, RobertsonCooper, said in his foreword to the report:
“Over the last decade, we’ve seen significant changes in the nature of the workplace and workforce, and they’re not showing any signs of stopping. As such, the topic of the ‘future of work’ is one that, naturally, is very much growing and dominating the conversation amongst health, safety and wellbeing professionals. Many industry think-tanks, conferences and thought leadership pieces are centred on the future of work and what that could look like – yet there has been less of a focus on what this might mean for our health, safety and wellbeing.
“Organisations, big and small, now know that their competitive edge depends on engaged, healthy and proactive employees and that cultures that promote this kind of environment will deliver to the bottom line, as well as sustaining the health of their employees. There is a wealth of research – some of which I have led – that demonstrates the benefits that focusing on employee health and wellbeing can deliver for businesses. We now also see that 45% of companies have a clearly defined wellbeing strategy (REBA, 2017), enabling them to ensure their efforts are delivering the right results for them.
“But health and wellbeing are by no means at the heart of current working practice and culture. The last five years has seen increases in stress-related illness and presenteeism, which have had an impact on productivity, talent retention and attraction. In 2016, only 30% of companies had a wellbeing strategy, so whilst we’re moving in the right direction, there’s still progress to be made.
“My concern is that companies are gearing themselves up to focus on health and wellbeing for the here and now, rather than setting themselves up to be ready for the complexities of the future. And by that, I mean, are businesses creating a culture that promotes wellbeing, with managers who create positive work environments and employees who take responsibility for their own wellbeing? We know that work is changing which is why there is much conversation about the future of work, but we know less about the risks this might bring to the health, wellbeing and safety of employees, so it’s a challenge for businesses to prepare for this.”
Recommended steps that employers, trade unions, educators and government should do now to prepare for the future, from the British Safety Council, are:
- Promote good work and better quality jobs: share good practice and the benefits of good job design;
- Build resilience: starting with children, better resilience is a life skill in a changing world;
- Education must be relevant and forward thinking: we need to prepare for the future by skilling up for future work, including on soft skills;
- Keep the regulatory system up to date: a greater emphasis on smart regulation can help design-out risks in the future; and
- Extend the understanding of future risks: we need more research about the risks that will emerge from changing work and how to mitigate them.
The full report is available to download here.