The Workplace Safety Futures report explores how six megatrends underpinned by advances in digital technologies and shifting employment patterns may affect WHS and workers' compensation in Australia in years to come. The megatrends range from advancing automation and the gig economy to rising screen time and an ageing workforce.
Joanna Horton, Research Analyst at CSIRO's Data61 and co-author of the report said the Australian workplace has undergone significant structural and demographic changes along with digital technologies such as automation, artificial intelligence and augmented reality entering the workforce in greater numbers.
"This will have implications for workers' compensation and the WHS environment in Australia and may require fresh approaches to managing risks and supporting sick or injured workers.
"The report investigates plausible future scenarios to provide policymakers and businesses with the insights they need to ensure the long-term effectiveness of Australian WHS and workers' compensation systems, in the face of rapid change," Ms Horton said.
One of the six megatrends — automated systems and robotics — will present both challenges and opportunities from a WHS and workers’ compensation perspective.
Physical workplace injury is predicted to fall by 11 per cent by 2030 as the use of robotics including AI and drones replaces dull, dirty and dangerous tasks1. However, growing use of robots in the workplace raises questions about whether current ways of identifying, assessing and controlling WHS risks will be adequate in addressing potential new risks that may arise.
The report also interrogates the impact of the rising gig economy on WHS and workers' compensation. A shift away from traditional employment patterns towards freelance task-based work poses new challenges for the way WHS risks are managed and how insurance can be delivered.
A significant shift towards freelance task-based work in Australia, with fewer workers covered by workers' compensation may also have long-term implications on our public health and social security systems if injured workers are not covered by some form of insurance.
Safe Work Australia Chair, Diane Smith-Gander said digital technologies will, without a doubt, significantly change the nature of work in the future.
"It's important that WHS and workers' compensation frameworks anticipate and adapt to the risks and opportunities presented by this future. Let's use this report as an opportunity to start the conversation among safety experts and policymakers.
"Safe Work Australia is already looking at ways the findings can inform future policy development and draw attention to areas where new guidance, research and data might be needed," Ms Smith-Gander said.
The six megatrends shaping the future workforce environment for Australia include:
- The extending reach of automated systems and robotics. The costs of advanced automated technologies are likely to continue falling and the capabilities and widespread deployment are likely to continue rising.
- Rising workplace stress and mental health issues. Australia's workforce is registering increasing levels of stress and mental health issues. New and intensifying uses of digital technologies in the workplace may exacerbate problems with mental health and stress, but technology also presents opportunities to manage these issues.
- Rising screen time, sedentary behaviour and chronic illness. The amount of daily screen time has grown for both adults and children and there is a continued drift away from manual jobs towards sedentary jobs. Rates of obesity, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and other chronic illnesses continue to rise.
- Blurring the boundaries between work and home. An increasingly large share of Australian workers are entering into work arrangements that enable them to work from home or other locations, blurring the boundaries between work and home life.
- The gig and entrepreneurial economy. The gig economy refers to freelance task-based work organised through online platforms or 'apps'. It changes the way we work away from traditional employment models. Although the Australian gig economy is still relatively small, at least some growth is anticipated.
- An ageing workforce. The average age of Australia's workforce is increasing along with the ageing of the population as a whole and older Australians are having to stay in the workforce longer.
 AlphaBeta Strategy and Economics. 2015. The Automation Advantage [pdf · 2mb] .