It is widely proclaimed that we are in the midst of the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” (4IR). The leaps and bounds that are being made daily in information technology and biotechnology signal the end of homo sapiens or provide liberating freedom for the working masses, depending on which commentator’s view you believe.

For us, the daily lived experience of the 4IR in working and home life is not yet as cataclysmic nor as emancipating as the commentators proclaim. However, the ever growing use of technological, timesaving solutions, the ‘gigification’ of the workforce, the blurring of the lines between work and home and the rising issue of workplace psychological health all signal shifting global trends.

Regional trends that are responding to the 4IR

The 4IR is shaping workplace laws. Working across regions we see examples that point to trends in laws responding to the new world of work arrangements such as non-traditional labour models. As an example, recent amendments to the Occupational Safety and Health Act in Korea have expanded the scope of statutory protections to “persons providing labour” (as opposed to “employees”) and introduce an obligation on franchisors to take preventive measures for workplace accidents suffered by franchisees and their workers.

Positive regional trends can be seen in how workers are protected by existing laws. The latest amendment to the Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Prevention and Control of Occupational Diseases on 4 November 2017 and recent cases indicate a trend in Beijing and Shanghai that the enforcement of health and safety at work is in focus, more comprehensive and increasingly strict.

Australian Governments are grappling with the challenge of laws that are responsive to the 4IR with recommendations to review Work Health and Safety Laws to deal with new and emerging business models, industries and hazards.

Rising issues of sexual harassment and workplace psychological health – a focus for regulators

Laws continue to be tested against the explosion in reporting of workplace sexual harassment, with calls for Workplace Health and Safety laws to specifically include sexual harassment as a risk that must be eliminated or minimised by duty holders. Regulators are encouraging anonymous whistleblowing to facilitate investigation.

We are also expecting more regulator activity in relation to workplace psychological health.

Exploring ‘megatrends’ for the future will help us prepare for change

It is more important than ever to understand the risks associated with the constant change in workplaces.

The Workplace Safety Futures report recently prepared by the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization has identified the following six megatrends for workplaces over the next 20 years:

Each megatrend presents both risks and opportunities but all are predicted to re-shape workplace health and safety. Business will need to grapple with these changes to ensure they continue to meet their legal obligations through what promises to be a period of rapid and potentially radical change.