By Sphera’s Editorial Team | September 23, 2020

The nature of work is changing. Many of these changes are positive — offering more job flexibility, reducing hazards and minimizing carbon footprints — but they also present new health and safety challenges. Understanding these forces can help businesses position themselves for success.

Here are five workforce trends to watch:

1. Automation and robotics. Companies are increasingly turning to automation and robotics to improve efficiency, reduce costs and make workplaces safer. However, automated tools introduce new risks, particularly during maintenance or a malfunction. For example, after the 2017 terrorist attack on the London Bridge, rideshare prices spiked on the Uber app due to an algorithm that automatically raises prices when demand is high. Uber ultimately overrode the algorithm and refunded customers, but faced significant backlash for the incident. Uber’s risk was largely reputational, but some automated tools, such as those used on assembly lines, present potentially fatal safety hazards. To mitigate this risk, businesses need consistent, comprehensive safety training.

2. Environmental hazards. Rising temperatures, pollution, extreme weather and public health threats introduce new and amplified risks to work environments. The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated the vulnerability of today’s workplaces. As of June 15, 93% of workers lived in countries with required or recommended workplace closures, according to the International Labour Organization. To stay afloat, businesses have been forced to massively reduce workforce size or hours, disrupt operations and adopt processes to limit the spread of the virus. While environmental hazards like COVID-19 may be unpredictable, robust risk assessment can help organizations gain better visibility of their risk profile and find a balance between preparedness and streamlined efficiency.

3. Green jobs and sustainability. Many organizations are making changes to become more energy-efficient. However, sustainability efforts aren’t inherently safe for workers. For example, research shows LEED-certified construction projects are linked to higher injury rates than traditional construction projects, because they expose workers to new hazards, like installing photovoltaic panels for solar power. Businesses must be able to effectively manage change when they introduce sustainability strategies. This requires a systematic approach to mitigate risk, maintain regulatory compliance and preserve reputation.

4. Remote work and work from home. Telework and remote work have been on the rise for years, according to the International Labour Organization. This trend will likely accelerate after the COVID-19 pandemic as businesses seek to minimize overhead costs and ensure remote working options are available when needed. A distributed workforce introduces safety challenges, including potential ergonomic risk due to inadequate lighting and equipment. Without the right tools in place, businesses have poor visibility of risk in remote work environments. Scheduled and self-directed assessment tools can help businesses track and manage health and safety non-conformances no matter where their workforce is located.

5. Nonstandard employment. Temporary jobs and contract work are increasingly common across sectors. Workers in nonstandard employment arrangements often face safety challenges due to gaps in training or lack of access to incident reporting frameworks. Businesses may be unable to verify if contractors are conducting risk assessments to identify potential hazards. For example, a pipefitter suffered fatal burns in a South Dakota biofuel refinery after ethanol spilled into his work area and caught fire from a nearby welding project. The victim was a contract worker who was unaware of the ethanol hazards at the site and did not receive safety training or flame-retardant clothing for the job. Incidents like these can be prevented with centralized contractor safety management to vet contractors, provide training and establish lines of communication throughout the lifecycle of the contract.

It’s important to understand how these trends will affect your business, so you can implement forward-looking health and safety processes and solutions.

To learn more about how to prepare for the future of work, find more details on our Health and Safety website or contact one of our experts.