19 Oct 2016

CU LAB: Adapting your WHS policy to evolving tech risk

Laws aren't the only thing playing catch-up with technology, as Shae McCartney demonstrates.

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The way we look at risk has to change. Workplaces are changing quicker than ever before. Historically we would have one big organisation, it employed the majority of workers, they carried out their work in one building and they managed safety through the employment relationship. We would put in place policies and procedures and enforce those policies and procedures by disciplining employees who didn't comply. The way we managed health and safety was through the employment relationship.

But that's not the way workplaces exist anymore. We have decentralised workforces, we have people working offsite, we have contracting relationships, we have multiple contractors on our sites.

As well as that, the advent of disruptors like Airbnb and Uber has changed the relationships we have with people who engage with our business. The primary relationship no longer is with employees; it's with some other form of relationship and we don't have that same level of control.

The way we work has changed. We engage with technology more than we ever have before. Things happen at a quicker pace. Technologies are changing the way our businesses are. We don't sit in an office and type on computers any more. I read something recently that said millennials spend more than 11 hours connected to their digital devices a day.

So the risks associated with how we do our work has also changed and we have to be able to adapt to that.

In order to manage risk in a changing environment we have to deal with the risk itself rather than with the technology that manifests it. A perfect example is the use of mobile phones when driving. Historically companies have put in place blanket bans on using a mobile phone when they're driving, and that seems an attractive solution. It's simple and it removes the risk entirely.

But the problem is, it doesn't work. We know that people will use their phones when they're driving and in fact often we encourage them to. We call them up and we ask them to do something without asking whether they're driving. Our managers, our CEOs use their phones on the way to work or on the way home asking employees to do things, and we don't consider that we're putting in place a policy that we're immediately breaching and in fact we're saying that it's okay to breach the policy because we're creating that environment.

We need to create adaptive workplaces. We can do this by empowering managers to manage proactively, by creating a risk-based culture where employees are empowered and trained and encouraged to think independently about risk and to come up with solutions, where we reward innovation. Our workers are our first line of defence ‒ let's make it our most innovative one.

And finally and perhaps most importantly, let's create policies that are flexible, that manage the substance of the risk and that can change as the workplace is changed.