There has understandably been a great deal of focus recently on the potential impact of Brexit on the health and safety sector. Some commentators are concerned that a potential “bonfire of regulations” could damage the UK socially and economically. But in reality, little will change following our departure from the EU. The UK is a global leader in health and safety and few politicians will want to jeopardise that.
Arguably a much bigger impact on the sector will come from radical changes to the workplace over the coming years, driven by cultural change and technology innovations rather than anything happening at a geopolitical level.
In many ways these new ways of working will be given extra impetus by Brexit. “Reduced trade, FDI, and the movement of people between the United Kingdom and the European Union could lead to less innovation, less investment, less competition, less access to talent, and fewer economies of scale,” according to McKinsey. “This will disproportionately harm the productive, traded sectors of the economy—Britain’s economic lifelines.”
This makes changes to the workplace that could enhance productivity essential. These include:
- Encouraging more women to enter and stay in the workplace. If women participated in the UK economy as much as men, it could add £600bn to GDP by 2025, according to that same McKinsey report
- Flexible working: more than half of the country’s organisations adopted flexible working policies last year and the number will exceed 70% by 2020, it is estimated
- The “always-on” office: cloud and mobile technologies are driving a remote working culture where employees can log-on and stay productive wherever they are, at any time of the day. This could mean anything from hot desking, ‘remote’ working from different offices or partner locations, or working from trains, planes, cafés and home
- Open-plan culture: UK employers increasingly favour open-plan office layouts despite a backlash from users that feel they make for more distracted, stressed and unproductive employees
- Robots: Whether we’re talking about robotic machinery on the factory floor or automated software “bots” in the call centre, the combined impact of robots and AI on the workplace is driving a Fourth Industrial Revolution
- AR/VR: Augmented and virtual reality headsets have a number of potential uses in the workplace, such as training, video conferencing, customer demos, or providing technical assistance to engineers
Health and safety implications
Needless to say, all of the above scenarios and many more that will come to define new ways of working have major implications for health, safety and wellbeing in the workplace. These could range from managing greater numbers of pregnant women in the workplace to potentially dangerous robotic machinery and head-mounted displays. There are also implications for health and safety in terms of accounting for employees in the event of an office fire, if large numbers of staff work remotely, for example.
At ARK, we’ll be focusing on these questions going forward rather than obsessing on how Brexit could impact the sector. The truth is that if we leave the EU, there could be an opportunity to react more quickly to these workplace changes by designing legislation that better reflects the way people work today in the UK. That could be good news in helping to drive a competitive advantage for the country, but there’s a long way to go yet.