10 things to know about the future of global best practice safety

  • Market Insight 09 October 2023 09 October 2023
  • Asia Pacific, Middle East

  • Climate change risk

We are living in a world experiencing dramatic changes in the way work is done. In reflecting on the future of global best practice safety, we have identified 10 key themes that apply no matter where your operations are or what industry you are in. The rapid advancement of technology, new ways of thinking, and investor scrutiny applied through the ESG movement are all key driving factors in the future of global best practice safety. These changes are exciting opportunities and promise to make work safer and more efficient. The key challenge facing organisations therefore is how to make the most of these opportunities in a responsible and considered way.

1. New technologies will revolutionise the way we work and do safety

The single greatest area of change in the safety space is the rapid development of new technologies that are transforming the industrial landscape. This has been referred to as “Industry 4.0”, or the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”, and is characterised by disruptive trends including the increasing prevalence of the use of data and connectivity, analytics, automation and robotics. The potential of key technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), augmented and virtual reality and big data to enhance existing safety systems and remove hazards from work is difficult to overstate.

Technological advances in the fields of automation and AI means that removing human interaction from risky activities is becoming more commercially viable. A practical example of this is in the agricultural sector, where autonomous robot tractors are now being released by major commercial manufacturers such as John Deer. By removing workers from direct exposure to risks and hazards on the site, worker safety can be improved. Furthermore, as systems become more sophisticated, they remove the risk of human error and contribute to improving safety. This is, of course, dependent on important safeguards being put in place in relation to how the automation is approached, particularly in relation to system failure.

New technologies also present a unique opportunity to improve communication with migrant workforces that are culturally or linguistically diverse. New technologies enabling real-time, accurate and reliable translations are removing traditional communication barriers. Additionally, we have seen companies use animations designed to convey important safety details without the need to use words as a novel approach to bridging communication issues with migrant workforces.

2. Turbocharge Risk Assessments

Risk management is a crucial aspect of ensuring that any organisation has a proactive approach to safety that can effectively respond to change and continuously improve over time. The most important tool in facilitating strong risk management is risk assessments. A risk assessment involves considering what could happen if someone is exposed to a hazard, and the likelihood of it happening. The aim is to better understand what is needed to be done, and what competency, skills and resources are required to get it done safely.

Technological advances now mean that risk assessments can be turbocharged. Through harnessing new technologies such as barcode scanning software which can be easily and affordably deployed on existing devices, to prompts that can be communicated to workers through worn devices such as smart watches, the thoroughness and overall power of risk assessments can be enhanced significantly. These tools can enable organisations to track risk assessments live and equip people performing the risk assessments with site specific, rapidly updated information to assist them.

A further important technological advancement in that regard is Augmented Reality. Augmented reality refers to technology that superimposes computer-generated images on a user’s view of the real world. Augmented Reality can be utilised to enhance the situational awareness of risk assessors. A simple example of this is in the use of Augmented Reality to demonstrate surface temperatures. By demonstrating surface temperatures on plant through the use of a transposed colour code, a risk assessor would be able to identify the temperature of the entire plant and pick up even minute differences in temperature which presents a hazard.

These new technologies should, however, be approached with a degree of caution, and suitably trialled and tested before being deployed throughout an organisation. This is particularly the case for AI, which is still in a very early state of commercial development. It is important that the processes for how these technologies produce results are clearly understood, and there are sufficient contingencies in place should they fail.

3. Systems alone do not deliver safety outcomes

The presence of even the most well designed and thought-out safety system is no guarantee that the outcome on the ground will be a safer workplace. While this is certainly the basis of safety in an organisation, this must be backed up by a number of important aspects.

Most importantly, the workplace must have a safety culture that not only puts the systems into action, but also re-enforces safety. That is, safety is not just seen as something which is to be ‘done’ but is an integral part of the entire operation of the organisation. The importance of ‘safety culture’ has attracted significant attention over the last decade or so. An enhanced safety culture leads to improved levels of trust, communication and performance, reduced time and paperwork devoted to checking whether basic safety processes are in place, and a better allocation of resources, all of which ultimately lead to tangible and financial benefits for an organisation.

A further important aspect of delivering sound safety outcomes is verifying that critical controls are being implemented. A critical control is a control for a critical risk. A critical risk is an event that can cause grave damage to business operations, or result in worker fatality or permanent disability. The stakes at risk should a critical control fail or not be implemented are enormous. The development of new technologies which enables the live verification of systems and controls are a crucial tool in attesting to the implementation and effectiveness of critical controls. Smart inspection technologies also enhance current methods of critical control verification by increasing the ability of inspectors to understand potential issues and streamlining the process of communication within an organisation.

4. Reduce clutter and focus on more important issues

A key issue we see consistently in ineffective safety management systems is the presence of “safety clutter”. The concept of “safety clutter” describes the accumulation of rules, policies, safety procedures, roles and activities that are implemented and performed in the name of safety but do not contribute to the safety of operational work. Safety clutter can distract from those things that could help improve the safety of work. What is important from the perspective of best practice safety management is that a system is streamlined, and that controls are implemented which actually protect the health and safety of workers. To that end, in our experience there are 20 key components present in all successful safety management systems:

  1. Commitment and Leadership
  2. Plant
  3. Resources
  4. Premises
  5. Critical Risk Control
  6. Contractors
  7. People
  8. Emergency/Incident Response and Business Continuity
  9. System Performance Assessment and Review
  10. Reward & Recognition
  11. Design
  12. Implementation and Accountability
  13. Customers/Clients
  14. Substances
  15. Training
  16. Engagement
  17. Processes
  18. Procurement
  19. Supervision
  20. Suppliers 

It is also important that consideration be given to how a safety management system is framed in relation to its workers. The most important consideration is to have well defined and well policed boundaries and to improve the capacity of workers to make the right judgement calls within those boundaries using a risk management process. The system should lay out fundamental principles and then increase the capacity of the workers through training and instruction to make informed risk-based decisions that reflect the working environment.

5. Worker Insights – find out how work is done, not work as imagined

Understanding the nature of operations and their risks comes from the place where operations happen and where the risks arise and get managed every day – the workplace. Learning from work as it is done on a day-to-day basis and learning directly from the people who perform that work is essential to achieving this. There is always a gap between how work is imagined and how work is done, since real work is not done in isolation. In this respect, the people closest to the actual work environment have the most intimate understanding of where the gaps, messy details and operational nuances are. Their worker insights are therefore an incredibly valuable tool to assessing the overall operational context of a business from a safety perspective.

Worker Insights can be mechanisms, activities and initiatives established in an organisation to generate engagement from and with workers at a site or organisational level on health and safety matters. A key breakthrough development in this space has been the application of voice recognition technology with AI to streamline the process of obtaining worker insights. The AI can then process the information gained from these insights for consideration by Senior Management. By being able to contemporaneously capture and process worker insights at scale, organisations will be able to gain a reliable and timely understanding of how work is done.

6. Safety as a capital investment

Safety is often looked at as an expense or cost centre. Expenditure on guarding machinery, auditing systems and training workers in safe systems of work is seen as a cost to the business and is accounted for in that way in financial balance sheets. Safety expenditure is typically justified on moral or legal grounds – in reference to the significant penalties or reputational damage that follows incidents. This is particularly the case in light of increased investor scrutiny applied as part of the ESG movement. The attitude that safety is simply a cost is not an accurate reflection of the overwhelming benefits that strong investment in safety can bring to an organisation. Far from being a cost centre, safety can be seen as an investment in the capabilities of an organisation. Indeed, investing in safety is good for business. Studies have shown that safety conscious and environmentally sustainable companies outperform their peers on the share market, delivering net additional share value of as much as 4%. A report from the US Centre for Chemical Process Safety (CCPS) found that major industrial accidents cost an average of USD$80 million each. Other costs such as business disruption costs, which the CCPS estimates are up to four times the average cost of the property damage or an average of USD$320 million for each major industrial accident also accrue. Other studies have placed the indirect costs of an incident at up to 10 times the direct costs after considering factors such as: training and compensating replacement workers, accident investigation and implementation of corrective actions, scheduling delays and lost productivity, administrative expenses, low employee morale and increased absenteeism, and poor customer/community relations.

An important element in re-framing safety as an investment and not an expense is to move away from viewing safety as the absence of negative events, such as a low Total Recordable Injury Frequency Rate (TRIFR) score. Instead, safety should be viewed as the presence of capacities to make things go well, even under variable and sometimes messy conditions. In other words, safety should be seen as an investment in an organisation’s ability to enable more things to go right. By viewing safety in this light, it also becomes easier to track returns on investment.

7. Safety Reporting needs to be based on a thirst for insights not assurance

The current suite of lag indicators that are primarily utilised by companies, including Lost Time Injury Frequency Rate (LTIFR) and TRIFR, attract significant criticism for not being effective measures of safety within an organisation. Particular concerns have been raised in relation to the data quality of these measures and the poor nexus between injury rates and managerial or executive level decisions. In academia, pursuing a low TRIFR has been described as the art of measuring nothing. That is, injury rate indicators as a safety tool are meaningless because of their lack of statistical power. This is because injury numbers relative to hours worked are so low the requirement of statistical significance is never met.

What is needed in reporting is a pivot towards viewing gathering safety data as an organisational thirst for insights, rather than a simple assurance activity. To that end, the development of the Due Diligence Index – Safety (DDI-S) represents a landmark change in the way safety reporting is calculated and approached. It is a capacity-based indicator that derives statistical meaning and value from insights captured across the organisation. The index captures insights across the organisation through mechanisms such as (but not limited to) worker insights and learning team experience feedback in order to produce a score from 1 to 5 which demonstrates the overall resilience of an organisation from a safety perspective.

A further important activity in building a thirst for insights in an organisation is in conducting benchmarking exercises. Through comparing the approach of organisations to best practice safety, trends can be identified, and indispensable insights can be gained into how leading organisations in their respective industries are addressing safety. This is a particularly relevant point given the rapid pace of changing technologies and the impact they can have on safety management.

8. High potential incidents can be hugely beneficial for learnings

It is standard practice for organisations to simply look into what went wrong in incidents. In the case of a high potential incident or a serious near miss, an adverse outcome such as a fatality or serious injury was narrowly averted. There are typically many absent or failed defences which led to the incident. Despite this, the incident was averted. This means something(s) intervened to shift the trajectory of the incident from one where the adverse injury causing outcome would occur, to the one where the outcome was averted, albeit narrowly. Those things may be effective defences. These defences may be planned or unplanned. Understanding which defences work and harnessing them may be as instructive as understanding which defences failed or were absent. In order to gain the most from looking at what went right, we recommend the Positive Investigation Methodology (PIM).

The PIM looks at what happened and then looks at what could have happened but did not happen. Following this, the PIM looks at what “went right” to allow that potential adverse outcome to be averted. This is best achieved by asking “what went right?” repeatedly until the probabilities have been exhausted. This process will promote greater resilience in the safety management system. Simulating these situations through using AI may be a useful tool in enhancing the power of the PIM in testing various scenarios and what could have happened.

9. Supply chain engagement

Effectively managing supply chains from a health and safety perspective is important to promoting sound standards and practices at all levels. With investors increasingly scrutinising the health and safety of organisations, particularly with respect to factors such as modern slavery, there is a need to consider health and safety beyond what is in the organisations’ immediate control. In some jurisdictions, this is a legal requirement. This requires looking at the whole of the supply chain from suppliers to designers, manufacturers, contractors, and customers. Looking at this issue deeper, careful consideration of the alignment of HSE values, systems, processes, and culture of all the parties involved in the supply chain is required. This involves developing relationship-based connections with all the parties involved in the supply chain that are values driven and transparent. Over time, as the alignment of values becomes closer, trust needs to be built between the parties that they will be part of proactively improving health and safety in the supply chain. A useful way of achieving this is by developing a mature feedback loop which facilitates the frank exchange of information, issues and learnings which further strengthens the relationships of the parties involved in the supply chain.

10. Crisis Preparedness

Crisis preparedness is critical to an organisations’ ability to minimise the consequences of a safety incident. This requires an organisation to determine the parameters of the crisis response and allocate resources to it. A key aspect of this lies in securing management buy-in. It is then necessary to undertake a risk and vulnerability analysis and a business impact analysis. Based on these, response strategies can be developed, resourced, communicated and tested, and staff can be appropriately trained.

Organisations should work towards developing clear processes to prepare for all kinds of crises, setting out clear reporting lines and responsibilities so that the response is effective. Leadership of the response should come from the top. Personnel must be knowledgeable about their roles and be able to respond. In order to achieve this, adequate training in emergency response must be provided to staff at all levels of the organisation who will be required to respond to the crisis. Stakeholder engagement with relevant parties is also critical to ensuring that these processes are successful: this includes with relevant neighbours, law enforcement and emergency response authorities.

Finally, having processes and a paper system is not enough to build crisis preparedness within an organisation. Testing and practical implementation of these processes is essential to verifying that the processes put in place for crisis preparedness are effective. This requires simulations, done both in person involving relevant personnel, alongside theoretically based simulations such as tabletop exercises. There is also an increasing role for AI and machine learning to be used in simulating crises and the effectiveness of responses.


The future of global best practice safety management lies in changing the narrative on how safety is viewed. It is not an expense. It is an investment in the capacity of an organisation and its people. The focus of safety should be on increasing the capacity of workers and supervisors to make better decisions within a just and fair framework. Organisations should look to the potential of new technological advancements in AI and Augmented Reality to enhance the overall capacity for safety in their organisation. They should also engage with the whole of their supply chain to promote values-based relationships that are built on a shared commitment to health and safety. 


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