How OHS can stay ahead of the technology curve

Thursday 14 September, 2017

A large majority of organisations are adopting a reactive approach to the use of innovative technology for safety outcomes, according to an OHS futurist.

Generally, organisations typically lack foresight and strategy in relation to the implementation of emerging technology and how it can add value to business, said Cameron Stevens, director of Percolate Ideas.

“A lack of ‘tech literacy’ from business decision-makers and inflexible risk management are key roadblocks to innovation,” he said.

Stevens observed that early adopters are already experiencing positive outcomes with the use of virtual reality for immersive safety training experiences, while the use of drones for high risk inspections is also now commonplace, particularly in the oil and gas industry.

“These are no-brainers,” said Stevens, who was speaking ahead of the Perth Safety Symposium which will be held on Friday 13 October 2017 at Edith Cowan University.

“There are a few deeper trends that are bubbling away beneath the surface that I predict will have a massive impact on OHS practice over the next 20 years,” said Stevens, who pointed to the rise of blockchain technology, mixed reality and transhumanism as key trends in the future.

These trends and broader technological changes will impact on OHS and the broader business world in a number of ways, according to Stevens, who predicted that blockchain will become the foundation for a decentralised service model for contracted service delivery.

“The key question this will raise for the OHS professional is ‘who is the employer?’

“This will also become the decade of the consultant,” said Stevens.

“Mixed reality, with a large focus on augmented reality, will transform how we communicate hazards and controls to the end user.”

The “elephant in the room” among these trends is transhumanism, Stevens said.

This involves workers augmenting themselves with technology, through the likes of biohacking, cost-effective exoskeletons, enhanced sensations and “machine-assisted everything”.

In light of this, Stevens predicted that finding evidence-based solutions to manage risks associated with transhumanism will be almost impossible due to the rapid pace of change.

“In the near-team; predictable tasks OHS professionals conduct, that do not require human skills of abstract thinking, creativity, trust and influence, will largely become automated or adopted by other functions of the business,” he said.

In the process, Stevens said that “change management is king” so OHS professionals should look at upskilling to help with preparing for the journey of change management.

Another important aspect is a thoughtful risk management philosophy to change, that is both strategic and adds value.

“If you want to stay ahead of the game you must improve your tech literacy – if you don’t know what blockchain is, start learning,” he said.

“OHS professionals need to be open-minded about the future – putting up risk barriers is counter-productive.

“We must be thoughtful and user-centred in our problems solving to be relevant to business,” said Stevens.

 Stephens will speak at the Perth Safety Symposium 2017, which will be held on Friday 13 October 2017 at Edith Cowan University, Mount Lawley Campus. For more information visit the Perth Safety Symposium website