The world around us is transforming at a rapid pace. In the midst of this transformation, at times, we might find ourselves facing these changes hands on. In such a situation it is only natural to want to act as a firefighter — forced to react to the flames of change.
In this discussion, Alison Hinde, (CEO Proactively, Chair IOSH Swiss Network), discuss some of the biggest changes in the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) sector. She talks about how Lloyds Register are facing the challenges, sharing examples from James Pomeroy (Director LR). Alison focuses on developing a better understanding of these issues and how they impact the health and safety performance. “The aim”, she emphasizes, “is to turn these changes to our benefit, and be proactive rather than reactive.”
After the Cold War, significant innovation in the field of microelectronics led to the I&T megatrend. Similar megatrends that shaped the world were mass production, rise of electricity (electrification) and globalization. Societies, corporations and industries need to recognize these changes and adapt or they will be wiped off and quickly forgotten.
Mega trends are defined as macro-economic changes that impact us all on a global scale. They can emerge from various factors such as financial crises, shifts in the social realities in the marketplace, or conflict over resources.
How are such megatrends impacting OSH today? We scratch our heads to find answers to some of the complicated questions about the theories we use, the work we do, the technologies we apply and the outcomes we seek.
Alison relates these circumstances to VUCA– a term coined in the 1990s to describe the post-Cold War world which was Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. She claims that OSH today falls into this category as the industry is volatile, times are uncertain, changing trends are creating complex operations, and understanding the intricacies of these changes has been ambiguous.
When it comes to megatrends, Lloyd’s Register (LR) has identified 6 trends that are reshaping and challenging OSH today. Due to time constraints, she has focused on only 3 of these.
The first change Alison emphasizes on is the demographic change. Today, the workplaces have become more gender inclusive with women actively claiming their space in various sectors. Unique type of employees like gig workers are also joining the workforce.
With such rapid changes taking place, Alison reflects on how LR is taking steps to adjust to these challenges. One smart way to address this change, that she believes will have an impact, is to effectively engage with the employees.
Gone are days of sifting through painfully long manuals and instruction guides. Today, “visual literacy” takes precedence over verbosity. When information is presented in bite sized chunks, it is easier to follow, especially for the younger generation.
Alison gives a sneak peak into other forms of employee engagement that Lloyd’s Register is planning to introduce, including mobile engagement (tasks registered on a mobile app), and Visual Reality (VR) training. LR has also been working on an interesting project called “Storytelling,” where employees demonstrate their health and safety stories in video form, featuring “how tos” of performing various workplace tasks.
2. New Theories, New Approaches
Accidents are bound to happen. However, the risk of accidents in the workplace can be mitigated through implementation of effective procedures. Alison brings to our attention another shifting megatrend: New Theories, New Approaches, which primarily indicates how new ideas shape new approaches.
She talks about Herbert William Heinrich’s infamous “Accident Triangle.” Alison poses a crucial question: If we focus our attention at the bottom of the pyramid, will it help prevent a major impact from reaching towards the top?
There is no simple yes or no answer to such questions as there is no foolproof method to ensure complete safety in the workplace. The contemporary approach, she believes, is to put ourselves in the worker’s shoes and listen to their stories, carefully. No one knows the workings of the field more than the worker himself. A suggestion or an opinion from the worker dealing with the equipment hands-on will be an important input towards preventing workplace injuries.
3. Data, Digital and Technology
Digital technologies have fundamentally changed our societies, driving us forward from the industrial age to the revolutionized era. The impact of digitization can be seen in almost every sector such as business, education, government, and healthcare—it has become one of the key drivers of social evolution.
Leaving technology out of health and safety is not just foolish but also dangerous. Alison suggests implementation and adaptation of new technology in workplaces to keep employees not just safe but also efficient.
She presents “SafetyTech” — a tool to enable digitization of safety hardware, allow operation in a connected network, and utilize data to improve performance. Alison also mentions the handy “Proactively” mobile reporting app — a simple, flexible tool to engage teams in building a healthy, safe, and sustainable workplace. Safety accelerator programs are also some of the fast growth programs that LR runs to encourage startups to develop products incorporating new technologies in the OHS field.
Alison further hops into the world of robotics — consumer robots, humanoids, industrial and medical robots. She believes that utilizing smart technology in worker’s wearable equipment is an area that immediately needs our attention. Such technology will not only be a driving force in preventing injury in the field but also a source of bringing efficiency to the workflow.
Note: Since we mentioned that Alison will only be talking about 3 megatrends, so instead of adding the rest as bullet points, I will briefly mention them in short paragraphs.
Apart from the above mentioned 3 major megatrends, Alison also briefly touched upon the rest of the 3 trends that are equally shaping our industry.
Mental Health and Stress is one of the fastest growing healthcare challenges not just in the health and safety industry but also the whole world. Workplace stress, personal setbacks, and major life changes are some of the major factors contributing to an increased mental distress.
Alison notes the lack of Fitness and Chronic ill Health resulting in diseases like obesity and heart problems among employees as a cause of concern that needs to be addressed as well.
In the last megatrend, she briefly discusses the rising trend of contract and freelance work. The Changing World of Work has resulted in a flourishing gig economy where workers are hired as part-time contractors. Alison poses the question of how best to integrate and encourage the contractors to be committed to an organisation’s culture and vision.
We have established that these six mega trends are acting as forces of change in reshaping safety. This brings us to the question of employee engagement towards adaptation of this ongoing change.
HSE Megatrends and Employee Engagement
How can employees embrace these new ideas to ensure safety and efficiency in the workplace? How do we encourage employees to be inquisitive about the ongoing changes and learn about new technologies to keep themselves as well as others safe and healthy?
Communication is a key component in this challenging time. Alison encourages employees to communicate their ideas and suggestions with their managers, along with any grievances that they have.
The way forward is that of agility, determination and ingenuity of a squirrel to practice survival skills and to also be well-prepared for the uncertain future. In order to work towards a modern approach, Alison suggests a shift of focus from memorizing facts towards asking important questions and discussing new ideas.
As industries are moving into trying and testing new technologies for their workplaces, employees also need to learn about evidential theories around safety and how they can apply them to their work environments.
Alison insists that the idea of playing safe is a long gone concept. Today, risk-taking is an essential component for growth and success. However, we also need to understand the risks, and our capacity to endure them in order to ensure rewards. Taking risks, such as deploying new technologies, replacing old with new, and thinking about new ways to improve can go a long way in developing successful workplace strategies.
From a historical and ideological point of view, there has been a noticeable transformation in the nature of work, work-related injuries, and work-related stress. As these changes continue to evolve, it is necessary to adapt with them. With the introduction of strategic, viable and sustainable digital and operational trends, both employers and employees in the OHS workforce can work together towards a proactive future.
To hear more about what Alison has to say, and in particular his examples which bring the discussion to life, please watch this video which is hosted on the IOSH website as a webinar for IOSH Swiss Network.
James Pomeroy, LR, who has given permission to share work they are doing to improve EHS
HSE Foresight report
Workplace Safety Futures, Safe Work Australia