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.
Debates on how we face the future
Australian Governments are grappling with the challenge of laws that are responsive to the 4IR. A key recommendation from the 2018 review of the model Work Health and Safety Laws is that Safe Work Australia develop criteria to continuously assess new and emerging business models, industries and hazards to identify if there is a need for legislative change, new model WHS Regulations or model Codes.
Laws continue to be tested against the explosion in reporting of workplace sexual harassment. A number of unions are calling for WHS 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.
The battle lines have also been drawn for the Federal election later in the year, with the Australian Labor Party committing to a wide suite of industrial and safety changes including a commitment to support national industrial manslaughter laws – a position supported by the 2018 review of the model laws.
Rising issue of workplace psychological health – a focus for regulators
In Victoria, recent presentations from WorkSafe have detailed plans for its inspectors to be trained to assess workplace psychological health. We can expect more enforcement action in this space.
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 commissioned by Safe Work Australia explores the six megatrends predicted to re-shape workplace health and safety – including the gig economy, the blurred lines of work and home life and workplace psychological health. It’s a highly recommended read.
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