Emerging risks and new technologies - what does this mean for business today?

Changes in technologies and workplace demographics are inevitable, some would even say essential, but with them come new workplace risks that need to be understood, assessed and managed. Such changes not only have the potential to impact on employees’ health, safety and wellbeing, they can also present new risks to property, reputation and legal liabilities.

Risk management strategies must therefore be developed, established and continuously reviewed. It’s vital to take a structured and planned approach to identifying and managing risks, both those that have been known and understood for some time and also potential new risks over the horizon.

We work with a number of clients to help them consider the risk management implications of their business strategies, developments in technology and workplace practices, evolving organisational culture and the shifting social landscape in which they operate.

Recently we were called on by one of our clients, a world leading management consultancy, to support its workplace management team in identifying new and future technologies and trends that would impact its workplace and then in considering their implications for the workforce, workplace and organisational risk management.

We did this by facilitating a workshop in which 15 participants from the consultancy’s internal health and safety, security and business continuity teams discussed four different themes: workplace furniture, workplace technology and devices, changing workplace practices and lifestyles and social issues. The group was tasked with considering the implications of each on workplace risk management and how they could be managed and mitigated through training, communication, workforce engagement, risk management systems and specialist mitigation exercises.

Let me take you through each briefly so you can better understand the thought process and consider the implications for your own business.

Workplace furniture: This is evolving to include standing desks and smart chairs; touchdown zones for offices to accommodate more people with fewer desks and treadmill desks that enable us to work and walk. All can improve employee wellbeing, but also carry risk and place new responsibilities on workplace managers to provide training, assessment and support to users of new equipment.

Emerging technologies: By this we mean tablets, smart phones and smart wear like Google Glass and wrist worn devices. These technologies present new challenges and requirements for risk managers, in terms of their potential to cause new musculoskeletal conditions, contribution to workplace stress and ‘always available’ expectation within the workplace.

Changing workplace practices and lifestyles: As technology enables workforces to engage in work communications, across multiple devices and from any location, workplace culture is developing and with it employees are facing new expectations and stresses. We must be asking ourselves the question, ‘is everybody prepared for flexible working, 24 hours offices and constant connectivity?’

Social issues: Having such a huge effect on the workforce, the impact of social issues such as obesity, sedentary lifestyles, mental health and stress, can never be underestimated or ignored.

One of the main challenges for employers now is to accept there will be a diverse age range across the workforce and it will be an issue that will only develop further. Not only are there physiological considerations and implications, such as the potential impacts of degenerative illness in the ageing workforce, but there is also likely to be tensions between the now five generations (Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millenials and Generation 2020) interacting in many workplaces with their differing life experiences, expectations of work and diverse attitudes to technology, working practices and lifestyle.

Your business, workforce, assets and reputation can stand or fall on your risk management strategies so plan, execute, check and continually improve!