The decline in traditional workplace injuries in recent decades is one of society’s success stories. Today, workers are far less likely to suffer a major accident or fatality at work, largely a reflection of better employee risk management, safety and regulation. Rates of fatal injury in the EU reduced from four incidents per 100,000 workers to just one, from 1994 to 2015.
Yet, many businesses face growing uncertainty when it comes to employee wellbeing. Automation, changing business models and wider societal challenges are having a profound effect on the workplace. Employees are now more likely to be older, work remotely, have less job security and suffer from stress or muscular-skeletal disorders.
Robots are likely to take on many of the high hazard activities and repetitive manual tasks currently performed by humans, which should mean fewer workplace accidents. However, people increasingly co-existing with autonomous machines in the workplace could create new hazards. In 2015, a technician died in an accident with a robot at a Volkswagen plant in Germany, while in 2018 an accident involving an Amazon warehouse robot injured 24 employees.
Technology and automisation have rendered the workplace safer with regard to traditional occupational accidents, yet employers must be
mindful of unintended consequences of technological progress. This requires a much more creative level of 'what-if' thinking when it comes to business risk management.
Half of US adults have a muscular-skeletal disorder, costing an estimated $213 billion each year in treatment and lost wages, as documented in a report from the United States Bone and Joint Initiative. According to EU-OSHA, work-related neck and upper limb disorders already account for 45% of all occupational diseases. Muscular-skeletal disorders could
also increase with the rise in remote or agile working. Around half the UK’s workforce are predicted to work remotely by 2020. Employees working remotely are prone to muscular-skeletal disorders like repetitive back injury claims, due to poor working conditions in their homes and their use of laptops outside the office.
Recent QBE research found that 40% of businesses surveyed had experienced a loss of business as a result of employees continuing to work while experiencing mental health problems. The cost of losing business or contracts due to employee mental ill-health was an average £52,000.
Overcoming the stigma of mental ill-health is one of the biggest employee risk management challenges for employers. Two thirds of employees surveyed by QBE who have experienced a mental health problem did not disclose it. Half
of the employees surveyed had not taken time off to recover from
of companies who support mental health in the workplace reported an increase in employees’ productivity.
a mental health problem, even though the overwhelming majority (94%) said this had taken a toll on their productivity.
A quarter of the senior executives surveyed said their business did not offer any workplace mental health support. Yet, where companies had
implemented programmes to support mental health in the workplace 62% reported an increase in employees’ productivity.
of the world’s population will be over 65 by 2050
people in the UK are predicted to have dementia by 2025
According to the UK’s Health and Safety Executive, older workers bring a broad range of skills and experience to the workplace. They are also generally less likely than younger workers to have occupational accidents. However, accidents involving older workers are likely to result in more serious injuries, permanent disabilities or death. Older workers also tend to experience more slips, trips and falls than younger workers, and recovery following an injury may take longer.
As people extend their working lives, employers may also have to accommodate employees suffering certain health conditions, including
dementia and arthritis. A quarter of US adults are expected to suffer from arthritis by 2030 while one million people are predicted to have dementia in the UK by 2025, up from around 850,000 today.
For example, nano materials and particles are already being widely used in engineering, medicine and pharmaceuticals, although their health implications are not well understood. A report from the UK’s Medical Research Council found that carbon nanotubes may pose a cancer risk similar to asbestos.
The ageing population also has a part to play in employee wellbeing, as does increased product safety regulation and the legal environment. As people live longer, latent diseases are more likely to cause harm than in the past, while regulations and courts make it easier for consumers to hold corporations to account or seek compensation.
Bayer faces a potential bill in the billions of dollars after US courts linked the herbicide Roundup to cancer, while Johnson & Johnson is fighting thousands of mesothelioma claims related to its talc products. The airline industry also faces litigation from pilots and cabin crew who claim long term exposure to toxic fumes on board aircraft is linked with chronic ill-health.
reduction in absenteeism
increase in productivity
Employee wellbeing injury claims are more unpredictable and require a different approach from insurers; with increased emphasis on loss prevention and mitigation services. Employers’ liability insurance typically will only cover a small proportion of the cost of an employee being off work. To counter this, insurers are increasingly offering their own risk advisory services and partnering with third parties, acting as a gateway to innovative business risk management and loss prevention advice, solutions and technology. For example, wearable technology can help monitor and prevent
occupational back injuries in high risk sectors, like healthcare, warehousing, manufacturing, logistics and retail.
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