Safety and Health and the future of work

By Monica Nwosu | Monday Apr 29, 2019

The World  day for Safety and Health at work 2019  theme- as declared  by ILO is  "Safety and Health and the future of work"  The "future of work" is  by far the most trending and hottest topic currently making the rounds. The future of work is about the debate of what impact technology,  automation,  like artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics, digitization,  globalization etc will have on the work,  skills, income, work environment, machines and  the employees.

The most crucial and critical question Occupational health and safety (OHS) professionals must ask concerning these current trends is how the future of work is being shaped in the OHS profession and  the likely or impacts expected within the OHS profession in the face of  growing  technology,  and the adoption of  machine automation in the workplace, the redesign and introduction of new work activities, the expansion of the workforce, the requirement of new skills and  the kind of talents that will be needed to remain relevant, what changes are in store for the OHS profession? How ready is the OHS profession in the developing nations? How ready is the industry for this revolutionary changes we are already experiencing that will greatly shape the future of work globally. 

I think what this theme seeks to achieve is to make the professionals within the  OHS industry brainstorm and come up with creative and innovation ways in addressing the next future of our work,  looking at our peculiar challenges and the context of our current OHS operating environment, can we possibly face the looming threat of "dinosaurs extinction" in the next future of work?

Below are some of the critical components that will drive the future of work : 

Technology- Automation.

Digitization,  innovation, changing work structures are changes and new trends in technology that will definitely impact the way work will be done. Because the introduction and use of automation enabled by technologies including artificial intelligence (Ai), robotics. bring the promise of higher productivity and economic growth,  increased efficiencies, and convenience, most top strategic organizations are currently looking at the direction of  process automation and digitization as a way of escaping  the next economic disruption. Obviously,  these changes in the use of technologies also raise issues about the impact of  automation of some skills sets, jobs, income and the overall nature of work itself. This definitely means some kind  of work disruption.

For the OHS professionals,  this disruption can mean opportunities or stumbling blocks. Definitely, there will be increasing skill gaps as a result of these disruptions. How ready is the OHS professionals within our clime? Agreed, that as part of the developing world,  we are  only just starting to capture the opportunities in automation and digitization for economic advancement,  however,  the world is not just starting. In fact, the world is growing exponentially in the technological landscapes, if we, the OHS professionals do not key into the current wave of industrial revolution, keeping up with the trend in the next future of work may become a very daunting and challenging task.

Creativity & Innovation

There is no debate about this,  creativity and innovation still rules the world.  In the future economy will be built on on creativity  and technology. ( the future  is already here, if you have any doubt,  just check out: Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Uber- all thrive on creative and innovative technologies). The digital revolution may render some  work obsolete but it cannot render creative and innovation people "obsolete". There will be immense opportunities for OHS Professionals who can effectively combine technical and social skills — soft skills that are resilient to the future. 

As a key differentiation factor to ensure OHS remains relevant in the workplaces, innovation and creativity will become a recurring decimal. Certification and Technical abilities will no longer be sufficient  to scale you for the future of work. What will scale you, is engagement in self development around critical thinking,  Lean management, Effective Change Management & Adaptability,  Negotiation& Conflict  management skills. Improve and invest in Self Management,  Emotional intelligence,  collaboration and virtual skills. Learn about the different performance evaluation, monitoring and measurement tools and the list continues... Whatever you do,  just ensure there's an element of self growth and development and continuous improvement. 

Demographics

Age will no longer be the only characteristic for distinguishing demographics. Women are expected to continue to gain share in the work environment  rising from 46.8 percent of the workforce in 2014 to 47.2 percent in 2024. (US workforce of the future- Deloitte). The theme of the just celebrated international women's day #Balanceforbetter should leave you without doubt.

It is further estimated that by 2020, the Millennials (the Generation Y) will comprise half of the workforce, and by 2025, ( just barely five years from now), they  will make up 75%  of the global workforce while the Generation X (majority  of the top and middle level OHS Professionals  fall within this bracket) will comprise of just 16% of the total workforce ( According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.Oct 9, 2018). 

Therefore , to remain relevant, the OHS professionals must begin to look at  how to create balance in work activities and how to effectively manage new and emerging risks especially as regards knowledge sharing, succession planning, vulnerability of the workforce (increased younger generation and more women),  the peculiarity of the risks and how to effectively manage these risks for the upcoming future of work within the OHS business environment.

Information Management

With the introduction of automated systems and technology innovation,  comes the daunting challenge of information protection and data integrity. The data protection  and information management( theft and fraud) were among the  top 10 current highest ranking operational risks in business enterprise  Management ( ISO 31000 and INFOPRO survey 2018/2019). Aside data disruption, data compromise,  information accessibility, and talent risks, Information sharing & data protection will pose a huge risks as the OHS profession thrives well on data  availability and adequate information.

OHS professionals must go beyond just recognition of only OHS related risks to a  more robust analysis of  emerging company wide operational risks, effectively analyse these risks,  in order to critically address the  organizational issues of information management.  Otherwise,  information accessibility in the next future of work will be very scarce as Organizations will not be willing to readily provide access to required and relevant information for effective OHS implementation. 

Data Analysis

In addition, the next future of work will also focus on data Analysis and evaluation. This will involve the collection, collation, analysis, and optimization of  "big data". "Big data" is a new and emerging field  that  describes the  systematic extraction, collation, analysis and evaluation of scattered and unstructured  data using  software applications or computerized systems  for data analysis. It is crystal clear that competences will need to honed in IT related skill sets to become a player in this field.  Along with this, the OHS professionals must also focus on self-study and  competency  development not only in the interpretation of "big data "  but in the evaluation of same,  that will translate to visible results in the organisational strategic direction in order to maintain relevance 

Sustainable development

To conclude, any development that is not sustainable is no development.  Any improvement that will not yield  continuous and consistent result is no improvement- ( quote from me). The ILO, its tripartite partners, academia, and other key stakeholders of Nigeria have agreed to support the Future of Work Initiative for inclusive growth and sustainable development. (ILO publication 30 August 2016). It is obvious that the sustainable development initiative  is not "selling " as it ought to,  hence to enable effective marketing of these "sustainability products" , the ILO decided to  support the future  of work initiatives through inclusion of technological advancements,  globalization. Automation,  Digitization etc. The OHS profession cannot develop in isolation without yielding to the new strategy of  the future of work, hence in order to remain relevant in the soon to be work dispensation the OHS Professionals must align or face the threat of future extinction.  

(The author is the Principal Consultant / CEO Freshfountain Consulting Limited,  Occupational Health and Safety consultant and PECB / IRCA certified Lead Auditor based in Lagos, Nigeria)


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