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Looking ahead to the future at British Safety Council's annual conference

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“In 20 years’ time over 11 million jobs could be lost in the UK, approximately 30 per cent of the workforce,” said Mike Robinson, chief executive of the British Safety Council, setting the scene for the annual conference, with its theme of uncertainty.


Citing extraordinary examples of how technology has been dismissed in the past, from the car to the iPhone, he said we needed to be prepared for big change. “If you think that tech won’t change the world, what we have witnessed so far is really the tip of the technology iceberg.”

With mental health said to have reached historic levels of attention this year, translating awareness to change “is not going to be a walk in the park”, Sir Paul Kenny, HSE board member predicted. He said getting managers to take responsibility for the mental health of their staff will be a particular challenge, because it’s about “admitting there’s a problem” and in some cases perhaps owning up to mistakes such as imposing too heavy workloads on staff. 

Asked about the stress management standards, he said HSE was trialling new standards in schools and prisons. “HSE is pleased to be offering support and guidance,” he said. But he added that in his own experience, “it’s the economic argument that twists it, that gets employers to change their ways.”

Virtual reality (VR) now supplements the learning experience on many of the British Safety Council’s training courses. Head of digital James Mansbridge said: “Virtual reality is ideal for skill- based learning. We learn by doing, by repetition and habit. VR is a safe environment in which to make mistakes, which you can learn from.” He said he’s seen the tool act as a powerful catalyst for conversations about risk: “VR is useful to challenge ideas.”

Looking ahead to Brexit, British Safety Council chair, Lawrence Waterman said that politicians who call for an end to regulations that impact on people’s health and safety should be seen as ‘extremists’.

Lawrence Waterman OBE

The annual conference took place at TUC Congress Centre in London on 14 November. 

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