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The Power of Technology

Over the last few years we have seen a dramatic change in the rate of emergence of new technology. 

I recently worked as a part of a team conducting a review of the changes and challenges presented by new technology and explained at the recent IIRSM conference why we decided to stop at 52 innovations. 

By way of examples, the list included breakthroughs in molecular science, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, 3d printing, and drone technology.

No one can deny that technology presents wonderful opportunities. 

Who would have thought just five years ago that we would be using drone technology to assess structural damage to buildings, or 3d printing replacement parts on site that are 30% lighter and 40% stronger than the original components they are replacing. 

We all live in an age where technology is available, accessible, and affordable.  Technology provides new ways of doing things that fundamentally eliminate traditional risks, isolate people from harm (such as the drone technology described above or the use of robotics in manufacturing and construction) or otherwise reduce risks to acceptable levels seemingly without the need for processes or controls. 

Technology also brings inherent risks. 

We have seen how the rush to develop newer and faster micro-processors has left weaknesses in millions of computers that leave them, their users, and the data they hold vulnerable to harm.  We have also read about and how artificial intelligence has acquired its creators’ biases.

Autonomous vehicles are a spectacular example of the challenges new technology brings.  We have heard the tragic stories of deaths caused by autonomous vehicles and the dilemmas faced by their designers on philosophical issues such as in the event of an incident that will lead with certainty to the death of a pedestrian or the driver, who should survive. 

So often in the past, innovation has created tragedy.  It does not have to be that way.  One of the features of technology is that it is developing faster than the laws and standards that we have previously relied on for direction when considering the risks.  That creates fresh opportunities to be a part of the design or definition of what those standards should look like but leaves a gap until those standards are created.  Quite often it means working more closely with those that better understand the technology.

Whether it is looking at developments across your own organisation’s product range or reviewing the annual list of breakthrough technologies published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the risk assessment skillset is no different.  What is different is how risk and safety today requires as much consideration of the product as the workplace and that requires a different way for organisations to work and a different mindset amongst those with the skills.

Written by John Huckstepp M.Sc., SFIIRSM, CFCIPD, Tech.IOSH, author of the 2018 IIRSM Futureproof Programme and speaker at the IIRSM Conference 2018.


IIRSM is developing a new programme, Futureproof, on dealing with uncertainty in a changing world.

In a world full of risks and opportunities, how do you know which ones will have the biggest effect on you and your activities? How organisations react to risk and opportunity is directly linked to an organisation’s sustainability, culture and the health and wellbeing of the workforce as a whole. 

For the latest information on the Futureproof programme, see: 

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