Arup report maze Towards a safe and healthy future of work Evolution or revolution?

Executive summary

Our working lives are expected to change in multiple ways in the coming years, with new technologies, working patterns and even new industries emerging. This future world of work will introduce many opportunities to improve employees’ health, safety and wellbeing. But it will present significant challenges to workers globally too.

This report explores the diverse trends and possible ‘what if’ scenarios that will impact the health, safety and wellbeing of workers in the future. Under three key chapters, The future of work, Future risks and opportunities for health, safety and wellbeing, and The evolving occupational safety and health (OSH) profession, a wide range of topics is explored – from redefined employment models, through to the use of data to improve worker outcomes. Some of these topics will result in evolutionary or gradual change while others will be revolutionary, dramatic and sudden.

The future of work

Flexible and remote working, and changing employment models, are challenging traditional conceptions of the employer-employee relationship. These shifts impact the availability and access to labour and social protections, the responsibility employers have towards workers, and the ability for employers to manage or intervene in worker health, safety and wellbeing matters.

There are increasing societal concerns about and attention on social responsibility, from the environmental footprint of businesses to the creation of a fairer and more equitable world of work. Health and safety-related decisions and actions can drive a more diverse and inclusive world of work, remove structural inequities and ensure labour market shifts associated with the green transition are just, fair and equal for all workers.

Continuing and gradual global demographic shifts, ranging from an ageing population to burgeoning youth and migrant populations, will require the management of different types of hazards. Future workers also have new expectations, including portfolio careers and ‘hybrid’ working styles. For employers in affected industries, this will require increased efforts at worker retention, and consideration of the whole experience of work including improved working conditions, amenities, flexibility, autonomy, career development opportunities and business purpose and values.

Future risks and opportunities

The profile of health, safety and wellbeing risks and opportunities is changing. Macro-trends such as extreme heat, infectious diseases and environmental degradation are amplifying existing risks and creating new risks. But there are also future opportunities to create a safer and healthier world of work. For instance, improving the mental health of workers by building on the broader societal awareness of the issue.

New technologies and increased digitalisation are rapidly transforming the workplace. For some workers, it may mean they no longer need to work in unsafe conditions or have the ability to perform tasks more safely and efficiently, sometimes beyond their previous abilities.

The proliferation of workplace technologies is also generating increasing amounts of data, which can be used to improve health, safety and wellbeing outcomes through, for example, predictive analytics. OSH professionals will need to identify and apply new technology and digital tools to an OSH context, driving rapid improvements and assessing effectiveness, while also managing new ethical, security and physical risks.

The evolving OSH profession

In a changing world of work, the OSH profession is evolving and adapting for the continued prevention of harm and for the protection of workers. Fundamental shifts are challenging traditional definitions of what the profession is, does and stands for. At the same time, governments with agendas towards deregulation are impacting the ability of professionals to influence organisational OSH principles.

The focus of influence could also move away from a national government level due to the rising adoption of international or organisational principles-based OSH standards.

In recognition of such fast-paced change, businesses and OSH professionals are becoming more aware of the need for resilience, to anticipate rapid change, and quickly adapt to evolving circumstances to ensure worker health, safety and wellbeing.


In highlighting these trends our aim is to support the OSH sector to become more forward-thinking, and to improve the health, safety and wellbeing outcomes of all workers. The ‘what if’ scenarios highlight future uncertainty, to provoke, inspire and encourage stakeholders to consider the fullest range of possible actions required to achieve a safe and healthy future of work.

Our calls to action provide specific guidance on what governments, business, OSH professionals and the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) can do to achieve this common aim: eliminating hazards, reducing risks, harmful exposures and unsafe working conditions, and enhancing the wellbeing of workers.

A critical call to action is for governments to ratify and effectively implement ILO Conventions and Recommendations in every country, so these recommendations can succeed in their intentions to protect workers against sickness, disease and injury related to the work environment. Furthermore, significant action areas across all stakeholders are highlighted and include:

  • Driving forward social sustainability by removing structural inequity, enhancing diversity and inclusion and ensuring a fair and just green transition.
  • Developing appropriate responses to growing risks linked to climate change, new and emerging technologies and mental health.
  • Ensuring OSH professionals and workers have the appropriate OSH awareness, skills and knowledge to build a healthier and safer future generation of workers, including ‘soft skills’, digital skills and ethical decision making.

Inside this report

The future of work

An exploration of the future world of work and the implications for health safety and wellbeing. This chapter considers employment models and working patterns, the need for more socially responsible, ethical and sustainable business and the future expectations and demographics of workers.

Future risks and opportunities

An exploration of future health, safety and wellbeing risks and opportunities. Amongst other things this chapter considers extreme heat, infectious diseases, environmental degradation and digitalisation. It also highlights twenty impactful technologies that will create new or amplify existing health, safety and wellbeing opportunities and risks.

The evolving OSH profession

An exploration of the evolving OSH profession. This chapter considers expanding definitions of the OSH profession, agendas towards deregulation, the adoption of principle-based standards and new skills requirements for OSH professionals.