The composition and age distribution of the nation’s workforce is changing, and the pace of change is accelerating. By the end of 2021, around 40% of those in full-time employment or substantial part-time work will be aged over 50: in 2000 the proportion was around 33% and by 2030 is expected to be above 45%. Older workers are staying longer in post through choice or financial necessity. They will, as a generality, have increasing health issues and practical limitations on their physical robustness. Younger additions to the workforce bring vitality and ingrained IT skills, but there is significant concern that the continuing trend toward homeworking and the predominance of sedentary computer usage in place of traditional office work, meetings and face-to-face dealings, spurred on but not caused by the COVID pandemic, poses a threat to their mental as well as physical health. The HSE has flagged up key risks in its most recent strategic reports and annual plans, and employers would be well-advised to pay plan ahead. Mark Scoggins will outline what he sees as the key issues for employers to tackle in the coming 5-10 years.
1. A number of my employees are approaching 65: can I insist that they retire when they reach that age?
The default retirement Age of 65 was repealed in April 2011, subject to very limited exceptions, and replaced by a requirement for objective criteria to justify termination of employment in individual cases. Unless a retirement age from a particular job is fixed by law, employers must take steps to avoid claims of age discrimination.
2. Should I be planning for changes to our system for monitoring health and welfare of the workforce?
The HSE has recognised that remote algorithmic monitoring of physical well- being will increase in the very near future, principally though the spread of “wearables”. They will improve health awareness and give potential early warning of illness and adverse trends, but difficult questions arise as to personal surveillance, data protection, discrimination, and the extent to which employers can impose monitoring and employees be required to submit to it.
3. What will be the impact of Artificial Intelligence on the way we manage health and safety?
AI may be both a curse and a blessing. Studies of its use in the H&S sphere have so far been encouraging in identifying root causes of accidents and injuries and suggesting remedial measures, but its current limitations are arguably no substitute for intuitive human input to improvements, and over-reliance on it seems to pose a significant risk, not least because it tempts removing personal responsibility for safety-critical decisions in favour of ceding them to an algorithmic process.
4. My business is becoming ever more heavily dependent on IT to manage safety critical operations. Do I really need to worry abut the risk of cyber attack?
In its 2020-23 action plan, HSE identifies cyber crime as a key risk to safety systems, particularly those embedded in hazardous sectors. The NHS suffered a serious external attack a few years ago, and there seems to be substantial under-reporting of incidents.
5. The government has committed to a 10-year “Green Agenda”. Does it have any relevance to health and safety matters? The HSE forecasts that the escalation of green policies will bring significant change to the suite of relevant risks, especially in the built environment. The workplace will likely undergo a transformation, and the cost fall on business.
Written by Mark Scoggins
If you want to hear more from Mark Scoggins he will be speaking at our next event The SHE Show South, 21st June 2022, DoubleTree by Hilton, MK Dons Stadium, Milton Keynes.
Mark Scoggins, Solicitor Advocate, Fisher Scoggins Waters LLP
Graduate of Cambridge University. Solicitor Advocate (formerly barrister), based in the City of London since 1983. Principal Practice is the defence of organizations and individuals in the construction, chemical, transport, waste, water and emergency services sectors in regulatory claims: particularly those involving health and safety, environmental damage and catastrophic personal injury or death. Represented Balfour Beatty’s civil engineering division in the Health & Safety Executive prosecution over the Heathrow Express tunnel collapse of 1994, and Thames Trains at the public inquiry into the October 1999 collision near Ladbroke Grove in which 31 people died; numerous health and safety, regulatory and environmental cases arising from a variety of operations including construction, pipelines, oil storage, highway maintenance, waste, firearms, fish farming, fire and explosion, flooding, pollution, drinking water supply, asbestos management, legionella, electrocution, confined spaces, intellectual property and EU public procurement. In 2003 handled the successful Old Bailey defence of Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens and his predecessor Lord Condon, in a five-week trial at the Old Bailey, on all ten charges brought against them by the HSE arising out of roof falls suffered by patrolling police officers.
Please note, the views expressed by the original article author are theirs alone and do not necessarily represent those of Washingtondowling Associates Ltd or The SHE Show and therefore we take no responsibility for the content or accuracy of this post.