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The future of OHS and how to meet the changing demands of business

Tuesday, 9 July, 2019 - 13:45
Industry news
National News

Over the coming years there will be a shift in balance from designing environmental controls for avoiding risks, to increasingly designing methods for more safely engaging in potentially risky situations as well, according to futurist Dave Wild.

For example, minimising employee risk might lead to policies requiring workers to only operate on company premises or other highly controllable environments.

However, Wild said modern work practices such as customer empathy research (walking in your customers’ shoes) require OHS processes designed to operate effectively beyond conventional boundaries – whether it’s enabling an accountant to ride with a farmer on a quad bike, or a banker to spend a night on the streets with the homeless.

Wild, who spoke at the AIHS National Health and Safety Conference which was held in May 2019 at Sydney’s International Convention Centre, said that if you consider the mechanics of how disruption works in the natural environment, this provides clues as to how to create or avoid disruption in your own operating environment.

“Think of a still surface of water suddenly being disrupted – whether it’s by a pebble skimming the surface or a fish leaping from below,” he said.

“If you just look at the surface, the sudden disruption will seem to appear out of nowhere.

“However, if you’re constantly scanning the wider environment and looking deeper below the surface, you can spot signs of movement far earlier than others.”

For example, Wild said there is no question that autonomous vehicles are gradually making their way into the mainstream over the decades ahead, with major implications for OHS across many industries.

“So instead of waiting for the change to impact – disruptively – it’s possible to begin exploring now what others have already learnt about the OHS implications of this shift – from the mining operators who have been working with the technology for over a decade, to the universities deploying autonomous meal delivery bots just this month,” said Wild, who has spent more than 15 years working as a strategist and innovator for design, marketing and innovation consultancies.

As a futurist, he said he acknowledges how fast-moving and unpredictable the modern operating environment is with the age of disruption.

The trend is so well established it even has its own acronym, VUCA – Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous.

“Now I’m not denying that those factors exist,” he said.

“Or claiming that the future is entirely predictable. If it was, life would be incredibly dull.

“At the same time if the world was completely unpredictable, we simply couldn’t operate safely.

“Whether we’re sleeping to be rested or defining procedures to protect workers’ safety, the laws of cause and effect enable us to make our way in the world.”

The richness of life and business comes from this balance we live in – between the states of unpredictable and predictable, “which is where opportunity and risk lie,” he said.

Over the past decade Wild observed that here has been a noticeable increase in organisations’ understanding of the need to better respond and adapt to changing conditions.

“For example, although ‘Agile’ methodologies were first implemented by the software industry almost two decades ago in 2001, it’s only in recent years that these more responsive risk mitigation methods have formed part of standard operating processes across a wide range of other industries,” he said.