Why it’s smarter and safer to look ahead now

HSE's Foresight Centre helps businesses to prepare for the future

Sam Bradbrook, Senior Scientist in HSE’s Foresight Centre (and self-confessed ‘petrol-head’) explains the importance to health and safety of looking ahead and preparing for what the future might hold.

It was only my second time on a racetrack. I’d had some expert tuition, I knew the track, I was confident and in control.  The corner came up and I applied the brakes hard to slow the car down. The front of the car dipped and…

…slowly, it dawned on me that the corner was coming up way too fast and I had braked far too late. It had been raining and the track was damp; I knew that if I put a wheel on the grass I would continue, at speed, into unyielding metal barriers.
Gritting my teeth I pressed the brake harder; I was running out of road…

Then, I was out of time. All I could do was steer hard whilst still braking and risk spinning off the track. I held my breath and turned the wheel…the screeching of tyres, but no movement… then, reluctantly, the car began to turn and slowly resumed the course of the track. With my wheels right at the edge of the track, I slowed the car down and began to breathe again. It had been a close call, but nothing was hurt apart from my pride and front tyres.

Mind you, it was a few more laps before I calmed down sufficiently to relax my white-knuckle grip on the steering wheel…

It pays to anticipate what may lie ahead 

This scary experience showed that if I’d been paying a bit more attention and looked far enough ahead, I’d have seen the ‘50 metres’ sign for the corner and not braked far too late.

Looking further ahead into the future is something we’ve been doing for over a decade for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and other organisations through our Foresight Centre. The workplace has changed significantly over the years; from primarily manual-based jobs, such as mining, to many more office-based jobs.

The impacts that scientific, technological and societal changes have on our lives both at work and in wider society are significant and will continue into the future.

Based upon what we already know, we can anticipate future changes such as:

  • increasingly flexible work: anytime, anywhere, on any device and in any location
  • multiple generations in the workplace and an increasingly older workforce
  • automation in new areas; e.g. robots working in healthcare, or artificial intelligence in manufacturing.

What does all this mean for health and safety at work?

The growing shift from traditional fixed bricks-and-mortar working environments to a virtual workspace that can be staffed anytime, anywhere, is going to make assessing and managing health and safety risks a bit more of a challenge. On the plus side, though, advances in communications and monitoring technologies may mean that the safety of currently vulnerable employees such as lone workers or those in high-hazard environments is improved.

A business that proactively looks at what might lie in store for it in future years and prepares now is likely to maintain competitive advantage over shorter-sighted competitors. Sensible foresight and the management of uncertainty can help a business to mitigate risk, take advantage of emerging technologies and develop a safer and more efficient workforce.

The role of the Foresight Centre is to help HSE and others to: anticipate and make sense of future trends, understand what they might mean for health and safety and prepare for future changes in workplaces.

The moral here is that looking ahead and thinking about what the future might mean can help keep you safer at work (and, in the case of car racing fanatics like me, on the track)!


What do you think the workplace of the future will look like? Is increased automation a good thing for health and safety? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.


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