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The growing focus on safety in the workplace
New technologies, changing ways of working, and the need for stricter safety regulations are placing a renewed focus on workplace health and safety (WHS) in Australia and around the globe.
Major advances in automation, artificial intelligence (AI), and digitisation are fundamentally shifting employment practices and job roles across a multitude of sectors. Given this shift, a key question for occupational health and safety policymakers is the extent to which current regulations are fit to meet the safety challenges of workers of the future.
According to a 2018 workplace safety report by CSIRO, there are six major trends that are significantly impacting the workplace safety landscape today:
- Advanced automated systems and technologies. They are changing modern workplaces and calling for a re-examination of safety regulations and practices.
- Workplace stress levels are on the rise. New uses of digital technologies in the workplace may exacerbate mental health issues and stress, but these technologies also present opportunities to provide better support for employees’ mental health.
- Screen time and sedentary behaviour are increasing. The continued shift away from manual jobs towards sedentary jobs raises the likelihood of chronic health issues such as obesity but lowers the chances of on-the-job injury.
- Boundaries between work and home life are blurred. As more employees work from home, questions arise about what constitutes a “workplace” and how employers can uphold safety standards for remote workers.
- The Australian gig economy is growing. The rise of freelance task-based work has implications organisations’ health and safety obligations, especially in relation to contract workers.
- The Australian workforce is ageing. The average age of Australia’s workforce is increasing along with the ageing of the population as a whole, and older Australians are having to stay in the workforce longer.
How organisations are preparing for the future of workplace safety
Physical workplace injury is predicted to fall by 11 per cent by 2030 as the use of technology replaces traditionally manual and dangerous tasks. However, growing use of technology in the workplace raises questions about whether current ways of identifying, assessing and controlling WHS risks will be adequate in addressing potential new risks that may arise.
With that in mind, forward-thinking organisations are recognising the need to review and implement modern health and safety practices that address the trends above to ensure a safe workplace in a changing environment.
Creating a future-proof WHS environment comes to thinking about plausible future conditions before they eventuate, and making strategic decisions on how to protect workers as roles shift.
CSIRO recommends considering the following when evaluating an organisation’s WHS approach:
- Do WHS laws, regulations and codes of practice adequately cover the gig economy? Are current definitions of ‘workers’ and ‘independent contractors’ fit for the gig economy?
- Are current regulations and policies adequate to address the use of robots and automated systems in the workplace?
- How can new technologies be utilised to encourage employee health and wellness, such as through wellbeing apps or programs?
- How could data be better used within WHS and workers’ compensation systems to drive improvements?
- Do current WHS frameworks provide adequate guidance to manage technology within the workplace and safeguard employees?
Organisations across all sectors that understand the importance of these considerations and prioritise a modern workplace health and safety framework stand to benefit from a safer, happier, and more productive workforce well into the future.
Michael Page has a dedicated Health, Safety and Environment team. To find out more about roles or how we can help, get in touch with Amy Curran today.