IOSH South West Branch meeting - June 2017
Martin Temple CBE, HSE Chair
Thank you very much to the IOSH South West Branch for inviting me to speak here today and for arranging the fascinating tour I have had last night and this morning.
I hope you are all aware of the strategy for the health and safety system that was launched last year – Helping Great Britain Work Well. It’s something we all need to be involved in helping to deliver, and getting others to deliver as well.
Just to briefly mention, the six themes in HGBWW are:
- “Acting Together”, which is about promoting broad ownership of health and safety.
- Then there is Tackling Ill Health, which is crucial with many times more deaths caused by ill-health than by safety
- The next theme in Helping Great Britain work well is Managing Risk Well, which is about making sure risk management is proportionate and informed;
- It also links closely with the theme on Supporting Small Employers, giving them simple and sensible advice to improve outcomes; a proportionate approach to risk is the key.
- The final theme in Helping GB work well is Sharing Our Success, making sure good practice is shared at home and abroad, by HSE, businesses and sector bodies.
I’ve missed a theme out, did you spot it?
- The fifth strategy theme is Keeping Pace With Change – maintaining our ability to adapt to an ever changing world and make improvements where we can. And this is what I want to talk to you about today, to stimulate your ideas in this area.
- I don’t want to talk about what you should be doing already, and no doubt are doing today - I’ll take it for granted that you know about effective workplace health and safety in today’s world.
- I want to talk about health and safety planning for the future.
- I want you to think about how ready your organisations are, and other organisations you work with, to tackle the challenges ahead from the rapid pace of change in the workplace, with new technologies and new ways of working.
- The pace of change is a key factor in all aspects of business - having the right management systems and cultures in place to deal with change is crucial.
- To put in context it wasn’t until 75 years after the telephone was invented that it reached 50 million users.
- And television hit that mark in just 13 years.
- The internet took four.
- Facebook reached 50 million users in 3.5 years.
- And the Angry birds app took just 35 days to have 50 million people tapping away at their smartphones.
- Things are happening quicker and the nature of work is changing faster. Whilst we have seen this general shift before, this time the speed of change is greater than ever. Commentators point to five key trends shaping the future of work, which are:
- New behaviours;
- Demographics; and
- Technologies. Let’s take them briefly in turn:
- New behaviours - shaped by social media and the web, people are more comfortable living more public lives, building communities to share and shape personal experience.
- As a result new employees entering organisations are challenging the conventional idea of how they are expected to work and what they expect from an organisation.
- Mobility – working anytime, anywhere, on any device will have increasing impact across jobs that can work in that way.
- Globalisation means organisations are dealing with a world where boundaries might be less rigid so understanding differences will be important, particularly from our perspective in relation to health and safety.
- Demographics is the fourth trend - we are facing an ageing workforce in the UK with a clear trend towards workers staying economically active for longer.
- Three years ago the average age of the UK population exceeded 40 for the first time and by 2040, nearly 1 in 7 people are projected to be over 75.
- Workers over 50 now make up nearly a 1/3 of the UK workforce, up from less than a 1/4 in 2000 and the employment rate for those over 65 has more than doubled in the last 15 years, to 1.2million.
- We are now seeing reports that 65% of children entering primary school today will end up working in jobs that do not yet exist.
- The final trend is Technology. I want to say a bit more here. It has had - and continues to have - a major impact on jobs and the workplace. It has had positive effect overall to-date, low skilled jobs have been lost but more new higher skilled ones have been created.
- The pattern we see is that tasks that are repetitive and routine (predictable physical work, data processing and data collection) are increasingly performed by machines.
- Repetitive routine tasks across many business sectors are increasingly being automated.
- Computing power and the ever shrinking size of sensors will have major effects in terms of pervasive computing – for example supercomputers in 2020 are likely to be 30xs more powerful than those of today;
- Really big data – huge amounts of data (44 zetabytes, a 1000 million million million) will be being crunched as soon as 2020, providing more raw material for artificial intelligence machines to learn from;
- Communication speed – although people in some rural communities may disagree, broadband speeds are increasing and internet traffic will double by 2029.
- Pervasive computing is already in cars, phones, toys, and is now going into micro-electromechanical systems, invisible, absorbed into our surroundings, in clothes, fashion accessories, even contact lenses.
- These and other factors are now converging to push seemingly futuristic technologies out of the lab and set them on the same path taken by personal computing and consumer electronics.
- Developments in some or all of these five key trends could lead to structural changes in businesses, with, for example large corporates growing ever larger and taking on increasing roles in improving the wellbeing of their employees, because of the growing importance of keeping workers healthy and productive for longer and because of the increased mobility, technology and demographics potentially blurring the boundaries between home and work life.
- At the other end of the spectrum some of the same advances are allowing specialist local micro businesses to flourish with companies bringing together highly specialised groups to deliver an outcome, not necessarily doing anything else directly themselves - the manufacturers that didn’t make anything.
- Thinking again about the rapid pace of change becoming possible - Lockheed Martin has predicted hypersonic travel being a reality by 2030 – if that’s right, about 1 hour to Australia. Already the air travel record is now 4525 mph. What materials will be needed, Imperial College is working with Lockheed Martin on these.
- It’s not easy to correctly predict the future though. Thomas Watson, the Chairman of IBM said in 1943 that “there would be a world market for maybe five computers”.
- But colleagues at HSE’s laboratory in Buxton – the largest research facility of its kind in Europe – have turned futures work into as much of a science as possible.
- One of the main elements of this work is horizon scanning - a systematic examination of information to identify potential threats, risks, emerging issues and opportunities.
- Three useful words related to this task are possible, probable and present:
- With the possible we are still at the idea stage, with much uncertainty. An example being quantum computing.
- What is probable – when we see a step change in activity, the evidence indicates an increasing likelihood that the activity will soon move to being present – such as collaborative robotics (Cobots), advanced (3D) manufacturing and autonomous vehicles.
- The present we are dealing with now; health and safety issues will be known but may still be evolving as use grows – an example being synthetic biology.
- For HSE colleagues the trick is not just to spot what is possible but to assess when is the right time to act, to identify when something is moving from possible to probable to present.
- Is it a waste of time and resource?
- We need to be one step ahead to be ready, not two steps ahead to potentially invest resources in areas where they may ultimately not be needed.
- But wouldn’t it be even more efficient to wait till we know something is ‘present’, that it is actually happening before we attempt to tackle it?
- Here we get into the area of the ‘ions’ – when do we become engaged?
- Is it innovation, invention and formulation
- Is it manifestation, introduction, implementation, implication
- Is consequent, consultation, legislation and regulation?
- Or around the information, education, facilitation and when necessary, investigation?
All must take place in the right way, the right place and the right time.
We cannot be a relevant and effective regulator if we remain unaware of what is going on, and preparing for the probables and the new present.
*Good assessment of new and emerging hazards and how they can be effectively managed can take time to get right.
And with the rapid pace of change we are seeing, the ‘probable’ phase for many topics is getting ever shorter before it becomes ‘present’.
- And we don’t want to resort to taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut, simply because there isn’t time to understand a new type of hazard or risk – it is much better if research and evidence can be developed to allow innovation and proportionate risk management.
- You can think about how the possible, probable, present approach might affect health and safety in business sectors you support.
- Let’s think of a few examples – I don’t have all the answers to what could be possible, probable or present in each case but you may have ideas of your own.
- 3D printing – it has been in use for a number of years, so in that sense it is ‘present’ – most commonly for rapid prototyping, but also manufacturers of hearing aids and dental braces are now using the technology for finished products.
- What could fit into the ‘probable’ category here… 3D printers are being developed that will be 500 times faster than today’s models. Another ‘probable’ is that some pharmaceutical companies are now starting to create living tissues through a means that couldn’t be achieved without 3D printing. They are printing tissue for testing drugs and even producing tailor made blood from stem cells. Anti-ageing drugs are also being developed.
- In the ‘possible’ category we could have the ability to print complete products from various materials, even including parts such as sensors, electronics and batteries.
- Perhaps it won’t be too fanciful to think that in a generation or so replacing the kettle or toaster won’t involve a trip to the shop or a delivery by van or drone, but a quick browse online and a press of the print button.
- Where would the health and safety angle be here? Is it the designers? I personally don’t have the answers but it’s the type of thing as a regulator we would need to have an awareness of in case it looks like one day every home could potentially include its own factory!
- A topic area closely aligned with HSE is the health agenda. The change in demographics will increase the importance of people being able to maintain their health longer into what we currently term old age. We extend life, yes through healthy living, but also medicine, so what jobs will older people do with their propped up bodies?
- There is certainly plenty in the ‘present’ then about topics such as well-being, stress and mental health. But there will also be ‘probables’ and ‘possibles’ relating to these health topics and more.
- In terms of HSE’s research capabilities I’m mainly focusing on foresight work here, but we also research what needs to be done now.
- Just to give you a quick example from a health perspective, we are helping to reduce occupational asthma in the motor vehicle repair industry through work focusing on risks to spray painters. Isocyanates are the leading cause of occupational asthma in the UK and spray painters using isocyanate based paints are at greatest risk. About 12,000 people spray paint in this industry, mainly in SMEs and micro businesses.
- HSE developed the evidence base to assess what needed to be done in conjunction with trade associations, suppliers and occupational health advisers, in order to improve exposure control.
- Issues that became apparent were a lack of awareness by painters of the invisible paint mists that can cause asthma, which led them to use their Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) improperly in the spray booths. Many were lifting their masks and visors in order to check the paint finish too soon, whilst the invisible mist was still present and breathable.
- So interventions were created to give key messages at health and safety awareness days plus videos for others to see, giving a demonstration of the risks. Another tool developed to drive behaviour change in conjunction with the demonstrations is a novel bio-monitoring test kit that workers could use themselves, through urine sampling, to assess their exposure to isocyanates, before and after making any improvements to working.
- This resulted in statistically lower exposure than had been seen in previous HSE inspections and sampling. A clear example of how researching and developing new techniques and technologies can help improve health and safety outcomes.
- And I’d now briefly like to paint a picture of how an entire industry – not spray painting though - may alter radically in the foreseeable future, to help further thinking on your industries. It’s the industry I grew up in – farming.
- Labour saving devices such as robotic harvesters, mechanical fruit pickers, weeding machines and robotic milking parlours are already enabling farmers to become more resource efficient.
- A significant future impact on farming might come from further developments in Information and Communications Technology and the Internet of Things. Data generated on the farm being stored remotely in the Cloud and accessed via the Internet, enabling instant connectivity across all dimensions of farm management.
- Farm animals being monitored remotely using electronic collars with embedded wireless sensors which transmit data on location and health back to a central computer.
- Drones carrying multispectral cameras, allowing them to observe crop health continuously. Sensors measure temperature and moisture in soil, allowing timely and targeted application of water, fertilisers and pesticides. Fields can be ploughed by autonomous vehicles guided by sensors, geolocation data and cloud-based software.
- Robotic ‘pickers’ will be able to harvest more types of crops.
- The arrival of 5G will further support the massive increase in connected devices and pervasive computing, enabling millions of devices to be connected to ubiquitous high speed networks allowing more efficient gathering and transmission of actionable data.
- It might be a year of natural drought, another 1976 but let’s say it is 2036. The farmer might be relieved that it’s by then technologically viable and commercially cost effective to control the weather over his crops, inducing the necessary amount of rain and humidity over his or her fields. Work is going on at pace in this area.
- And that in any case this technology won’t be commandeered for use elsewhere during the drought as the developments in the use of graphene could have reached the stage where mass desalination of sea water is a way of ensuring the taps keep flowing.
- It may be that in the future farmers will be able to harvest their crops, plough their fields and apply pesticides all from the comfort of their armchair and a conversation with their computer. And with the ageing population they will be doing this whilst planning their 70th birthday celebrations.
- Will farms change to become massive business enterprises, no longer family owned – perhaps with a positive impact on health and safety in our worst area?
- We must keep an open mind of course, the future world of work may look very different to today’s and identifying what issues we may have to respond to will be complex. But, on current trends the UK workforce of the future is likely to be multi-generational, older, more international, more female and more multiple companies working together to complete a task or project.
- Technology will be pervasive, jobs more fluid and the global labour market highly competitive. Workers in the near future will be doing jobs that do not exist yet and the skills needed in the workplace will be very different to now.
- The growing reliance on IT controlled processes and systems has increased the vulnerability of industry to cyber-attacks, which can result in the loss of data or denial of service, but may also have work-related safety impacts.
- At major hazard sites, cyber security breaches have the potential to cause a major accident if safety-critical systems are compromised. Believe it or not such attitudes happen on a daily basis.
- A 2014 cyber-attack on a German steel mill led to parts of the plant failing and caused serious damage to site infrastructure.
- As national regulator for work-related health and safety, HSE has a role to play in ensuring that dutyholders manage these risks appropriately.
- HSE is developing policy and technical expertise in this emerging area.
- If the future world is different and more complex then what are the gaps in knowledge and understanding you will have to address and respond to. For example:
- Do you know what the health needs of older workers are?
- Will the workforces you are part of, and those that you advise, have the necessary skills? For companies that start to call in temporary expertise and resources on a routine basis, will they be able to tell what skills people have before they are put on a task?
- What effect would changes in types of employment have, such as possible growth in the so called sharing or gig economy?
- If businesses make more use of contractors, more flexible working and fewer direct employees, how will effectiveness be maintained in terms of team working, instilling company ethics and policies etc?
- And finally, if there are regulatory changes, particularly if you are part of an international company, will you cope?
Thank you for listening and I’ll finish with a quote that fits with what I have just been covering - “Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now.”