At the start of any year, business leaders typically sit down to consider the year ahead, what new trends they might need to look out for, and where their business priorities lie. There is one constant that is a given, though: safety is paramount. It was critically important in 2023, and that will be no different in 2024.

Despite that, there are new trends and developments to consider. There will be new regulations to consider as the governments around Australia continue to move to meet community expectations. For example, last year SafeWork SA introduced regulations to help manage the risk of psychological harm.

Workplace safety is also a dynamic field that evolves with the changing needs and challenges of the industry, as well as the advances in technology and innovation. These changes can affect the safety equipment that your staff should use and the way that you fill out a SWMS document before commencing work. Here are three trends that organisations across Australia should keep a close eye on to.

Trend 1: Increased use of automation and artificial intelligence

One of the most prominent growing trends in workplace safety is the increased use of automation and artificial intelligence (AI) to perform tasks that are repetitive, dangerous, or require high precision. Automation and AI can improve the efficiency, quality, and reliability of industrial processes, as well as reduce human errors and risks. For example, robots can be used to handle hazardous materials, inspect pipelines, or weld components, while AI can be used to monitor and control systems, optimise operations, or detect anomalies.

However, automation and AI also pose new challenges and opportunities for workplace safety. On one hand, automation and AI can reduce the exposure of workers to hazardous situations, and provide them with more information and assistance. On the other hand, automation and AI can also create new hazards, such as cyberattacks, malfunctions, or human-machine conflicts. Therefore, worksites that want to embrace AI also need to adapt to a new set of risks, by developing new standards, protocols, and skills, as well as ensuring the ethical and responsible use of these technologies.

Trend 2: Increased focus on sustainability and resilience

Another major trend in the industrial sector is the increased focus on sustainability and resilience, in response to the growing environmental and social pressures. Sustainability and resilience refer to the ability of businesses to minimise their negative impacts on the environment and society, and to cope with and recover from disruptions and shocks, such as natural disasters, pandemics, or geopolitical conflicts. For example, the industry can adopt more renewable energy sources, reduce waste and emissions, or enhance its supply chain security and diversity.

Sustainability and resilience are also closely related to workplace safety, as they can affect the health and safety of workers, customers, and the community, as well as the continuity and profitability of the business. For instance, climate change can increase the frequency and severity of extreme weather events, such as heatwaves, floods, or bushfires, which can create new safety risks on work sites. Therefore, every sector – including those involved in work safety – needs to start incorporating sustainability and resilience into its strategies and practices, as this is a pressing challenge that faces us all.

Trend 3: Increased diversity and inclusion in the workforce

A third trend that is expected to impact on all workplaces is the increased diversity and inclusion in the workforce, as a result of the demographic and social changes in Australia and the world. Diversity and inclusion refer to the representation and participation of people from different backgrounds, identities, and perspectives in the workplace, such as gender, age, ethnicity, culture, religion, disability, or sexual orientation. For example, the industry can attract and retain more women, young people, migrants, or indigenous people, who can bring new skills, ideas, and perspectives to the industry.

But with this diversity comes new challenges in areas like workplace safety. For example, there might be cultural sensitivities around some materials or workplace practices that need to be considered, and one-size-fits-all is no longer an adequate approach. Business leaders are going to need to carefully focus on how they can support diversity in the workplace without compromising on safety.

These are some of the trends that are likely to shape the future of industrial safety in Australia in 2024 and beyond. Of course, these trends are not exhaustive or definitive, and they may interact and influence each other in complex and unpredictable ways. The most effective approach to ensure that workplace safety doesn’t become a risk to your business is to make sure you remain informed of changes in regulation and best practices, and take a proactive approach to make sure that those best practices are being followed through on work sites.

As experts in workplace safety wear, the team at NECA can help you keep on top of these trends, and what they mean for the workplace safety equipment you should keep on site and how you should approach a SWMS document before commencing work. Contact us to discuss your needs.