The rise of the ‘gig economy’, emerging technologies, and an aging workforce raise numerous questions in the context of work health and safety (WHS) and workers’ compensation.
There are concerns that current policy and regulatory frameworks may not be adequate or appropriate for the ‘workforce of the future’.
But, until recently, such a workforce has remained but a vague concept, with little clarity and certainty in terms of how these megatrends may take hold.
While ‘Industry 4.0’ and the ‘gig economy’ are now practically household terms, few have agreed on the precise nature and scope of technological disruption and of the free market system.
CSIRO’s Data61 has sought to address this with a recent strategic foresight piece, produced in consultation with Safe Work Australia.
The report lays out four plausible scenarios that could result from the impact of six inevitable megatrends, depending on their scope and trajectory.
On the top end of the scale, it supposes a revolution with exponential, disruptive and far-reaching change. On the opposite end, it assumes an evolution with predictable, linear and incremental change.
In doing so, it provides a road-map from which to navigate workers’ compensation policy and regulation, in an era of immense uncertainty.
Joanna Horton is behind the report and said: “As it stands, workplace stress levels are on the rise, and with a technology-fuelled increase in sedentary, screen-based positions, coupled with a decrease in manual labour, we can expect to see a surge in mental health claims.
“Conversely, it is equally plausible that, with the automation of many roles, we may see a reduction in other types of workers’ compensation claims.
“It is vital that we understand the extent to which workplace technology may impact health and ensure that we have the appropriate policy structures in place to adequately support the population – whether it be comprised of predominantly employees or ‘gig workers’”.
“Further affecting the statistics is the prospect of a later retirement age, caused by an aging population. Currently, the highest rate of workers’ compensation claims comes from those in the 50-54 age bracket; and the highest rate of serious claims from among those aged 60-64.
“It follows that the number of claims could increase if a new set of brackets is applied. But then again, we must consider the role of technology and automation in minimising such claims”.
Presenting at the 20th Annual National Workers’ Compensation Summit, Ms. Horton will outline and discuss the report, with a focus on how each scenario may impact the business sector.
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