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Future risk research

Future risk: Impact on health, safety and wellbeing

A literature review by British Safety Council and RobertsonCooper brings together the latest evidence, mostly from UK, into how work is likely to change in the future, what the probable impact will be on people's physical and mental wellbeing and what employers, trade unions, educators and government should do now to prepare for the future.

The world of work is rapidly changing. People are living - and working - for longer; many tasks are being automated; modern communication technologies are dissolving the work/home divide and place 24/7 demands on people’s attention; new materials like nanotechnology and new techniques can present new risks; and the more ‘flexible’ contracts under which an increasing number of people work can reduce the clarity of who owns the risk.

With these deep and fundamental changes to work, the risks associated with work are also changing. The increasing pace of innovation, insecurity and drive for efficiency is putting more pressure on people that can lead to stress; older workers have different needs for safety and health at work; environmental risks from work activities are growing; and risks can emerge unexpectedly when new ways of working combine humans with technology, robotics and artificial intelligence that connect people across the globe. 

At the same time these changes can be the trigger for improved workplace wellbeing programmes. In the context of a more mobile and flexible workforce, employers will likely have to compete for talent and do more to create working environments where people feel valued and trusted.  However, the changing world of work is also likely to increase inequality – at least in the near term (next 20 years) – and there will be many less skilled workers who will not benefit from such improvements.

At a time when work is rapidly changing, there is an urgent need to have a more strategic view on what research says about the future of work and risk, and how these two issues are related. The summary gives an overview on the state of this research and recommends how Government, regulator, businesses and the trade unions, the educational system and organisations like the British Safety Council can prepare us to face the risks of tomorrow.

A video with leading academics and thought-leaders explores these issues and can be found here