by Russell Corlett, health and safety director for Peninsula. The HR and employment law business consultant is based in Manchester and has over 30 years’ experience, as well as an international presence in Australia, Canada, and New Zealand.

Health and safety has faced a major upheaval in recent years. The arrival of the digital revolution, and changing corporate and social attitudes, has seen a seismic shift in how the industry operates.

As we adapt to technological advancements and diverse workplaces, let’s break out a crystal ball, examine the available evidence, and see where things may be a decade from now.

The future of business

While we can’t say for sure what will happen, it’s possible to make an educated guess. There are already white papers speculating on the future business world, such as a detailed analysis by professional services network PwC. This report suggests four potential outcomes by 2030:

Yellow World: Ethical and blameless brands flourish—humans come before business
Red World: Consumerism surges, technology grows, and innovation is rewarded
Green World: Businesses acknowledge public change and become environmentally friendly
Blue World: Big company capitalism rules and originations grows

The outcome will depend on various factors, from politics to changing public attitudes. Mitigating factors will also play a part. In England, for instance, post-Brexit health and safety ramifications will certainly shape the industry in unexpected ways.

No other country has to deal with this shift, at least not yet, and instead can focus on the pervasive advances that will shape the future of the industry.

Technology driven change
One thing is obvious: technology will play a massive part in every area of business over the next decade. PwC’s four outcomes all recognise it and the implications for health and safety changes are fascinating.

For most professionals, changes will come about by monitoring existing trends, how they progress, and by analysing data (alongside experience and instinct) to lead health and safety down the right path.

What could this involve? Technology could alter the way millions of people work, from where they are to the type of tasks people do. Desk jobs are likely to increase, for example, with professionals plugged into an increasingly extravagant amount of devices in order to keep their jobs ticking over. It’ll likely become increasingly difficult for some staff to switch off from work, so monitoring stress levels could be essential to avoid worker burnout.

In May 2018, American firm Three Square Market began biotracking staff. The implication here is health and safety practitioners could monitor individuals as they become stressed, depressed, anxious, or unhappy. Even their body temperature could be tracked, allowing for a change in air conditioning temperatures to improve their mood.

Will this be commonplace in a decade? It’s possible, but with exempt clauses for anyone who finds it too invasive, Three Square Market has been keen to point out it’s optional for staff. It’s notable millennials were particularly eager to latch onto the new technology, though.

Generation Z, which will be into the workforce in full flow by 2028, would also likely have no issue with having the chip inserted (it goes into the hand between the thumb and index finger). After all, they don’t know any better. However, older staff more used to punching in from decades back may find this shift alarming, even Orwellian in its encroaching approach.

Behavioural science – Nudge Theory

There are subtler psychological approaches available. Appreciation for this has moved on from the days of sitting up properly at your desk. Behavioural science has already been used to encourage positive reinforcement—this brings about a pattern of behaviour that offers a reward upon the behaviour’s completion.

The result? Nudge theory is emerging as a popular psychological tool in some workplaces. Richard Thaler, who founded the theory, has already boosted British tax receipts and helped people stop smoking—he was awarded the 2017 Nobel Prize in Economics for his work.

It’s about making slight changes to the working environment to achieve a positive result. Over the next decade it, and many other, practices could come into effect to maintain emotional well-being for employees, or to help them complete their daily tasks to a higher standard.

An innovative, safer future

There’s a sustainable future on the horizon, but one filled with continuous advances in technology. There are new worker expectations to consider. But health and safety will become more refined as a result—it’s moved far beyond teaching office staff how to avoid RSI.

We may all be microchipped and our heartrates monitored. New trends will also emerge that we’ll need to adapt to, which could be predicted by algorithms! Behavioural science could, subconsciously, ensure we all do a better job, whilst staying alert and safe.

In its present state, however, it’s clear the future for health and safety is brimming with exciting possibilities. Its contribution to business is more important than ever before. There’s no reason why this shouldn’t still be the case come 2028.

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