2016 has been an important year for health and safety around the world. We have seen new legislation in New Zealand, the UK and Singapore and a range of great initiatives focused on reducing workplace risk. Year on year workplace safety takes higher precedence on our agendas as Governments and official bodies look for the best practices in reducing risk and holding the right people responsible for accident and injury.
But what can we expect for 2017?
We provide our predictions based on the changes over the last year, planned legislative changes to come, trends in technology and the current work environment.
- More prosecutions and higher fines
Several countries around the world have introduced new health and safety legislation in 2016 and increased penalties for unsafe work practices. In the UK and recently in China, businesses can now face prosecution for the presence of risk in a workplace even if an accident has not occurred. Several countries already have plans to introduce new legislation and guidelines in the coming year and we are likely to see others follow suit.
We have already seen the new guidelines at work in the UK, with the number of company directors who have been prosecuted for health and safety offences trebling in the last year. Law firms are confident that the numbers will continue to rise over the coming year as governments and official bodies crack down on workplace health and safety.
Fine thresholds are also rising and we are likely to see many more businesses facing fines reaching into the millions for both fatal and non-fatal accidents. David Shorrock, Managing Director at DS Risk Management Ltd, even predicts that the UK could see the first £10 million fine in 2017.
- Focus on ill-health
Traditional health and safety has focused strongly towards preventing the physical causes of accident and injury. While more still needs to be done to eliminate preventable accidents and fatalities, 2017 could see a focus switch to ill-health.
Several studies and articles in 2016 identified stress as an underreported and undervalued contributor to injury and fatalities at work. Mental health issues such as depression are also becoming less of a taboo and gaining more traction in regards to workplace health and safety. We are likely to see this become the subject of several health and safety initiatives in 2017 and begin to mould how we organise employee safety in regards to work loads and the work/life balance.
Equally, greater awareness is needed for work-related ill health including musculoskeletal disorders and asbestos-related cancer. In some industries, such as construction, the number of workers suffering work-related ill-health is similar to that of those injured in workplace accidents. HSE (UK) have already made ill-health a main strategy for 2017 and will be working with businesses to tackle ill-health in the workplace.
- Recognition of unconventional work patterns
The work environment looks dramatically different to how to how it looked a decade ago. Many businesses and individuals have moved away from traditional work patterns with the incorporation of flexible working, lone working, working away from a fixed based and contracting or self-employment. While new ways of working can be beneficial to business and how consumers access services, managing risk and employee safety faces a new range of challenges.
Health and safety bodies have already begun recognising the challenges of managing the safety of less traditional workers and offer employers guidelines and advice. This is something that will begin to work its way in to new legislation and has already been seen to do so in New Zealand. The Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 lists a whole range of people protected under the act and includes all of those mentioned above.
- Rise in safety technologies
The safety technology market has expanded drastically over the last few years and with technology advancing at a rapid rate and more and more businesses are recognising their benefits. From wearable technology to mobile apps, safety technologies are being used in workplaces all over the world to efficiently manage and reduce risk.
It is forecast that there will be 50 billion connected products by 2020 and personal safety equipment will be a key part of this growth. Therefore, we expect more and more technologies to make their way into the workplace in 2017 and with the adoption of smartphones, tablets and an increasing interest in personal wearable tech, employers and employees are more open to incorporating tech into their work day.
As workplaces evolve and legislation changes, technology can be a great way to businesses to adapt. In New Zealand for example, the newly introduced Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 requires businesses to retain regular contact with lone workers and have an effective means of getting help quickly to them in an emergency. This has resulted in many businesses turning to lone worker monitoring devices as a way to meet their duty of care.