New technologies, ways of working and 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.

Key workplace safety trends

According to the CSIRO’s Workplace Safety Futures report, there are six major trends that are significantly impacting the workplace safety landscape today, and will continue to shape the environment over the next 20 years:

  1. Advanced automated systems and technologies. They are changing modern workplaces and calling for a re-examination of safety regulations and practices.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. The Australian gig economy is growing. The rise of freelance task-based work has implications for organisations' health and safety obligations, especially in relation to contract workers.
  6. 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.

Designing a safe workplace

Physical workplace injury is predicted to fall by 11% 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.

According to the Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy 2012–2022, there are four key focus areas inherent to a safe workplace:

  1. Elimination of hazards. Structures, plant and substances are designed to eliminate or minimise hazards and risks. Work processes are designed and managed to eliminate or minimise hazards and risks.
  2. Supply chain and networks. Supply chain and network participants understand their cumulative impact and actively improve the health and safety of the supply chain.
  3. Health and safety capabilities. All employees have the work health and safety capabilities they require.
  4. Leadership and culture. Communities and their leaders drive improved work health and safety, and foster a culture of consultation and collaboration that actively improves work health and safety.

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.

To find out more about how we can help, get in touch with Michael Page today.

Join over 60,000 readers!
Receive free advice to help give you a competitive edge in your career.