In August 2014 I wrote an article for SHP magazine (‘To boldly go’) which identified a series of future trends with regard to workplace safety. The article was based on research I had conducted with multinational organizations around the globe, and focused on four strategic themes:
50% of respondents said a desire to improve performance was the primary motivator for action on improving workplace safety.
Whilst there were leading lights identified, a majority of respondents pointed to the usefulness of benchmarking and networking with peers.
Heavy reliance on accident statistics (50%), but a move towards external assurance of progress (culture surveys and system audits). Big issue was sharing the responsibility for safety amongst senior leaders.
The research pointed out three key areas for future focus: Psychology of risk and safety, Leadership, and Wellbeing. Certainly these three areas have become big news for many organisations nowadays, but there’s one area no-one saw coming…
You’ve seen how Netflix displaced the Blockbuster video store to let us stream rather than own entertainment and become a leading film and television production companies. You’ve watched the demise of vinyl, CDs and audio cassettes as Apple has done the same with music, but let’s look further. Disruption is all around us.
Software will disrupt traditional industries. Think about it: Uber is just a software tool – they don’t own any vehicles yet they’re the biggest taxi firm on the planet. AirBnB is the world’s biggest hotel company but they don’t own any properties.
Artificial intelligence will seep further into the workplace as computers get exponentially better at understanding the world. At a secret research facility in California this week I interacted with a robot that I would have sworn was human. And they’re smart too – a Google computer recently beat the world’s best Go (ancient Chinese board game) player. IBM’s Watson system dispenses legal advice in seconds with 90% accuracy (compared to 70% accuracy of an average law clerk). Watson does more than law, though, and is already helping nurses diagnose cancer – four times more accurately than humans. And Qualcomm has a wireless handheld device that monitors our health in real-time, diagnosing 12 health conditions and capturing five vital signs in seconds. No more trips to the doctor.
Autonomous transportation is driving forward. This year we will see the first self-driving cars. By 2020 they will have disrupted the 150-year-old automotive industry. Babies born today will never have a driver’s licence and never own a car. As a result, the 1.2 million figure of people killed each year in vehicle accidents – or one every 100,000 km will plummet to just one every 10 million km, saving a million lives every year.
Maastricht University has successfully grown a hamburger from beef stem cells in a laboratory petri dish. ‘Cellular agriculture’ or ‘cultured meat’ will become the cheapest source of beef by 2019. Right now, 30% of the world’s farm land is used for cattle – imagine if that space is no longer needed.
Auto repair garages will disappear. The average petrol engine has 20,000 parts compared to just 20 parts in an electric equivalent and the entire engine can be removed and replaced in under 30 minutes. The growth of electric vehicles will decimate filling stations and oil companies will dwindle. The energy industry as a whole will dramatically change as more homes install solar and alternate energy systems to generate their own power and sell surplus back to the grid. Those vast, bulky power stations will close and be removed from your landscape. As roads become dominated by electric self-driving vehicles shared by everyone multi-storey parking lots will become redundant.
In 1997 Kodak dominated the world of photography, with 170,000 employees and 85% of the market share of photo papers. A year later digital photography took off, but Kodak couldn’t adapt to the change. In January 2012 Kodak filed for bankruptcy. Ironically Kodak invented the first digital camera in 1975, but couldn’t fully envisage a world without printed photo. Their own creation was their downfall.
History is littered with these ‘Kodak moments’: Coke and Pepsi couldn’t conceive of energy drinks. Hoover ignored cyclone technology. Nokia forgot to innovate. Travel Agents didn’t see Booking.com coming. Borders dismissed eBooks. EMI missed the Beatles.
Up to 80% of work roles as we currently know them will vanish in the next two years. Whilst the health and safety profession has grown rapidly over the last 30 years, it is not immune to change.
As Henry Ford said: “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you always got.”
It’s not enough to do better. We need to do better things.
The world is now turning faster than ever before. Where will the disruption to the way you work come from? What could put a dent in how your industry works? How can you positively disrupt the way safety is done?
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