Beta This is a new way of showing guidance - your feedback will help us improve it.

HSE horizon scanning conference report

London, 30 November 2006

1. HSE held a horizon scanning conference - Horizon Scanning: health and safety in the changing workplace - in order to:

About 100 delegates from government, industry and academia met to hear a range of invited speakers and to work with HSE's newly completed Scenarios for the health and safety system in 2017.

The meeting was chaired by Jonathan Rees, HSE's Deputy Chief Executive (Policy), with presentations from:

2. Jonathan Rees opened the Workshop by setting the day in the context of HSE's good record on horizon scanning activities and emphasising that the present, structured system, introduced in 2005, builds on that tradition.

He also set out how the workshop had been constructed, around three main themes:

3. Dr Ashok Kumar then gave a keynote address, describing the role of POST in keeping government informed of developments in science and technology. He linked aspects of HSE's current issues to POST's own horizon scanning activities, for example hydrogen, nanotechnology, gene therapy, demographics, cyber crime, climate change.

He noted dramatic changes in the workplace and the UK working population - for example the role of women and migrant workers, changing working patterns, older workers - and posed the key questions: what will be the health issues of the future? What will the workplace look like? What will the primary risks be?

He stated that we have already seen dramatic improvements in the health of the workforce. The common ailments many years ago were different from those today - those associated with mining, shipbuilding and manufacturing and exposure to hazardous substances are much improved, and this is a credit to the work of the HSE.

Yet with industrial change, new technologies, and changing work patterns we face new challenges. Two thirds of work related ill health now is due to MSDs and mental health problems and we welcome further research into these issues. And we need to remember the value of work to health - there are now known to be clear benefits to health from being in work. The Health, Work and Well Being Strategy includes helping people to stay in employment. HSE's strong record on tackling occupational health and safety issues was well recognised by Dr Kumar: "On a personal note, I have never heard the wisdom of HSE challenged in my nine years in the House of Commons".

Horizon scanning

4. It was then time to move into the detail of the day and look at what horizon scanning actually was. Here Dr Wendy Schultz gave a brief introduction to horizon scanning, which she defined as 'the purposeful search for and identification of emerging change'

The earlier and wider the scanning, the fewer surprises there should be.

Scanning should cover social, political, environmental and economic developments and discoveries.

A wide range of UK government departments and other organisations are engaged in horizon scanning.

5. Lawrence Waterman then talked about how health and safety and horizon scanning were not just theoretical concepts but could be combined and used today. He did this in the context of preparations for the 2012 Olympics. Health and safety is about anticipating, not reacting, and the further away your horizon, the better prepared you will be.

As an example of the challenge facing the Olympic Delivery Authority he estimated that up to 20,000 construction workers could be involved on the project at any one time and a total of 120,000 construction workers over the whole period.

6. Questions from the floor and subsequent discussion covered topics such as:

The scenarios

7. Wendy Schultz introduced the HSE Scenarios for the future of the health and safety system in 2017, which had been developed by Infinite Futures, SAMI Consulting and the Health and Safety Laboratory. The scenarios had been produced around uncertainty axes of:

Personal responsibility for health and safety; and

UK global competitiveness.

Four scenarios had been produced, entitled:

The scenarios are designed to help the health and safety community anticipate both how the workplace is changing, and how those changes might affect workplace risk.

Scan data feeds scenarios: multiple scenarios are pen-pictures of a range of possible futures … constructed in such a way as to bound the uncertainties … inherent in the future.

Scenarios are NOT predictions of the future. Scenarios ARE vivid stories that allow us to explore the boundaries of uncertainty and to prepare and develop strategies for the future. This Workshop gave participants an opportunity to influence the shape of the scenarios, which will be refined and published in Spring 2007.

8. The Workshop then split into breakout groups, which were each asked to consider, for one scenario only:

The breakout groups reported back a range of implications for each scenario. Common themes which would underpin any future world of work were drawn out and summarised as:


Informing and preparing the next generation of stakeholders about emerging risks, sensible risk management and communicating risks: in an environment where public attitudes to risk and responsibility may have been influenced by debate and action on public health issues such as obesity, technological advancement and climate change.

Role and nature of regulation

Reviewing the regulatory framework, assessing its adequacy for controlling changing risks in the changing workplace, where the latter is quite likely to be subject to the interdependent but not necessarily mutually compatible impacts of, for example, demographic change, human performance enhancement and new ways of 'real-time' monitoring of workplace/worker health.

Crossovers and blurring

Not just between, for example, occupational health, public health and common health issues, but between the work and the home; between health, safety and environment issues; between national and local priorities for health and safety; between privacy and monitoring at work; and between national security and personal liberty considerations - all of which may be influenced by developments in issues such as recycling, pervasive computing and the impact of environmental legislation.

Division and competition

Not just between the haves and have-nots but, for example, between environmental and health and safety issues, between national and local priorities, large and small organisation priorities, work and home, technological advances and morality/ethics (for instance, with reference to the employment of those who may be genetically predisposed to certain occupational diseases, or in biotechnologies).

Continuing links to wellbeing

Building upon the 'good jobs, good health' agenda, developing Health Work and Wellbeing, in an environment of changing demographics, flexible and/or precarious working and shifting employment patterns and increased workplace monitoring (whether for productivity or health reasons).

Open discussion

9. The report back from the breakout groups was provided by Dr Schultz, and was followed by a Panel Session chaired by Jonathan Rees and featuring

This provided a further opportunity for delegates to draw out and discuss topics of relevance. Key issues which emerged included:


10. Will Hutton ended the day by returning to the bigger picture, and the key themes of the knowledge economy and demographics. The UK is becoming a knowledge economy, driven by changing demand rather than supply. Consumers are spending less on commodities - they are saturated with possessions - and more on services - design, fitness etc, according to Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Women are increasingly rising to the top in this new economy. There are more women undergraduates than men and girls are outperforming boys at school. Women have a strong work-life balance agenda. And there will be a huge increase in the number of over 65s.

Mental health is moving up the workplace agenda.

There is little to choose between the two main political parties in terms of health and safety - they are both embracing the trends towards well-being. We would expect more health and safety law under either party.

11. Jonathan Rees formally closed the meeting.

He stated that a report on this workshop would be provided before Christmas, and a report on the completed scenario development process by Spring 2007.

He referred again to the Office of Science and Innovation and their role in delivering the Wider Implications of Science and Technology (WIST) initiative, into today's outputs will feed and beyond that, into broader cross-government work. He noted too that there would be a report to a Cabinet sub-committee in 2007, which will use some of today's material.

Participants were thanked and the meeting closed.

Report on evaluation

12. Overall feedback on this event was positive, with the vast majority of attendees rating it as good or excellent. The mix of those with experience of horizon scanning and those without was about even, but again the majority learned something new. The most commonly mentioned benefit was variety of stakeholders and interest groups represented and the opportunity to network.

Looking to the future, most attendees indicated that they would feedback to colleagues about the event, while a small number went so far to indicate they would like to develop their own scenarios.

The scenarios session itself produced the most diverse feedback, ranging from "not differentiated sufficiently" to "entirely credible, almost here today". Having said that, the majority of attendees reported that they found the scenarios "thought provoking". From HSE's perspective, outputs from the discussion groups on the scenarios really enriched our findings and will be of great value both in informing the final versions of the scenarios and in helping HSE continue to take forward this work.

Updated 2021-01-06