It’s now 48 years old and still going strong. However, the planet is changing and how we do work is always evolving, affecting the technology we use, the environments in which we work, and the societies and economic frameworks within which we operate.
Which of these changes will influence the future of health and safety legislation is difficult to predict. Sadly, we don’t actually have a crystal ball. So here is our best guess of what the world has in store for us.
Changes to the law
Governments periodically review and update health and safety legislation to ensure its effectiveness. Changes can be influenced by public opinion, recommendations from regulatory bodies, and lessons learned from significant incidents.
Future health and safety legislation will likely continue focusing on proactive risk management. After all, it’s more efficient and cost-effective to get employers to manage risk rather than for the authorities to police what businesses are doing.
Where legislation already exists, we think there will be an increase in the development of authoritative guidance on applying the law in various scenarios.
We’re all talking about it. Artificial Intelligence. AI can now teach itself to perform multiple tasks, raising the prospect that ‘artificial general intelligence’ could become a reality. At present, the risks from AI aren’t tangible. However, as we come to rely more upon AI, could there be a future where technology is used to make decisions about human risk? Humanity shares many common values that connect societies, for example, the desire not to harm others. Not causing harm is what our common and criminal legal systems are based upon. It is difficult to know whether AI could dehumanise risk-based decisions leading to physical harm in the future.
Other advancing technologies to which people may come into contact include robotics and automation and an increasing reliance on battery-powered devices, which poses significant fire risks if not managed correctly.
Health and safety legislation may need to change as the effects of AI, technological advances, and automation present new risks and challenges.
Increased awareness of mental health
Recent statistics show that work-related mental health issues are increasingly prevalent. Employers are recognising that they need to protect mental health just as much as the physical health of workers.
Environmental changes affecting health, safety and wellbeing
We’re in the middle of a European heatwave as we write this. While global environmental issues may usually fall outside a health and safety practitioner’s remit, hotter weather does bring about health and safety risks, whether in the workplace, while travelling for work purposes, or when attending work events.
Recently, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) in partnership with the Met Office launched a new Heat-Health Alerting (HHA) service focussing on the health impacts that high temperatures could have on the health of the population.
Beyond the current requirements to maintain ‘reasonable’ workplace temperatures, what will extreme weather mean for health and safety in the future? It is possible that if the UK sees consistent extreme weather events in the future, more detailed guidance could be published to give employers more information on how to reduce the risk.