Risk assessment has changed profoundly in the last 20 years. It has gone from a traditional, often manual process to include intricate, technology-driven systems. At the turn of the century, risk assessment predominantly involved manual evaluations, checklist methodologies and relatively static risk models. However, the evolution of increasingly advanced technologies has and continues to change the risk assessment landscape. And, of course, no discussion of current risk assessment processes would be complete without addressing the emergence of remote working with its risks and rewards.
In this article, we examine not just how technological innovations have changed the risk assessment of today, but what we might expect from the risk assessment of the future.
Risk assessment is highly subjective to sector, activity, and process, and technologies will be more relevant to some and not others. One of the more universal applications of recent innovations is in enhanced communication and reporting where technology now provides enhanced communication and reporting tools, ensuring that risk-related data is effectively communicated across organisations. This ensures that all relevant stakeholders can access, understand, and act upon risk assessment findings efficiently.
New technologies have also introduced automation to risk assessment, significantly reducing the manual workload and enhancing efficiency because automated tools can swiftly analyse data, identify risks, and even implement predefined mitigation strategies.
Other innovations include big data, ergonomics, The Internet of Things (IoT), and Artificial Intelligence (AI).
IoT: connecting assets and risks in real-time
The integration of IoT devices into risk assessment is helping organisations to keep a close watch on their physical assets such as machines, by using sensors and communication tools. These devices collect data in real-time about how equipment is performing and being used, and about the conditions in the environment, data which helps organisations understand where there might be risks or vulnerabilities, allowing them to take preventative actions to avoid problems. Additionally, IoT helps create smarter working environments by actively identifying and managing risks.
IoT technology can help keep workplaces safe by using devices like smart helmets and wearables. Smart helmets can show important information, like safety instructions, right in front of the user’s eyes using Augmented Reality (AR), while wearables, like the Kinetic Reflex, are worn on a worker’s belt to track their movements and give immediate feedback about safe practices to avoid injury. Prophecy Market Insights predicts that the smart helmet market will grow from a $435m market to $1.92B by 2032.
IoT also changes how we care for machines and equipment by using smart sensors. Instead of fixing machines after they break, sensors like Fluke’s 3561 FC Vibration Sensor can predict when a machine might fail by monitoring its vibrations, allowing teams to fix problems before they happen.
Big data: unveiling patterns, predicting risks
Big data refers to vast data sets that software and systems can gather and analyse to reveal patterns, trends, and associations. This innovation supports risk assessment by digging deep into large amounts of data and finding patterns and connections that might be missed with older, more manual methods. This allows experts to look at past trends and current situations, and make predictions about future risks, helping to create strong strategies to manage these risks before they become issues.
Importantly, big data gives a full picture of the risks in different areas of an organisation, such as operations, finances, reputation, and strategy, by showing how different risk factors are linked. This can help create thorough risk management plans that protect the organisation from a variety of challenges.
The power of big data
- Big data can help find hidden patterns in large amounts of data, such as understanding why equipment might fail by looking at historical data about its use and maintenance.
- Using tools like IBM’s Predictive Analytics, big data helps predict future problems and risks by looking at current and past data, which helps organisations prevent potential issues.
- Solutions from SureCloud and Dataminr offer a wide view of operational risks, helping organisations spot possible issues and create strategies to avoid them.
- Other platforms use big data to understand financial risks and help organisations create strategies to help them adapt to changing financial environments.
- Big data can provide insights into supply chain elements, helping organisations proactively identify and manage risks related to suppliers and logistics.
- Tools, like Splunk, help identify potential cyber security threats by analysing network activities. This allows organisations to act before threats materialise.
- Brandwatch and other social listening tools can help organisations understand public sentiment and perceptions, identify issues that could harm their reputation, and manage reputational crises in the moment.
AI: from risk data to strategic insights
While the movies promised us a dystopian nightmare, AI has so far only delivered great benefits – not least to risk assessment. AI can turn risk data into useful actions by processing and learning from the data, and then acting on it by using algorithms and machine learning to find patterns and unusual data points. These can then be used to help identify possible risks and suggest ways to reduce them. And so decision-makers have more than just information, AI is providing strategic intelligence to manage risks.
AI can also boost how quickly and effectively organisations can respond to risks. For example, it might allow for automatic risk alerts, instant data analysis and adaptable risk models. This is particularly powerful when used in conjunction with big data, helping organisations navigate through various risk dimensions with its ability to predict and provide a thorough understanding of risks.
The truth is that AI is still in its infancy and its limits have yet to be explored for risk assessment so we should expect new risk assessment software, applications and processes fuelled by AI to emerge in the coming years.
Ergonomic and psychosocial assessment tools: humanising risk management
With technology helping to manage risk around hardware, systems and machinery, it is easy to forget the human element and how technology can benefit people in the context of risk assessment. As well as helping to manage large complex systems, particularly those involving hardware and machinery, technology is helping to support better workplaces for people.
For example, ergonomic and psychosocial tools can facilitate a comprehensive evaluation of physical and mental risk factors inherent in work environments.
Ergonomic assessment tools, often empowered by AI and IoT, can evaluate the physical aspects of work environments and practices, ensuring that they align with human capabilities and limitations. They enable the formulation of workspaces and practices that not only minimise physical strain but also enhance productivity and wellbeing.
At the same time, psychosocial risk assessment tools navigate through the intricate web of mental and emotional factors, ensuring that risk strategies are not only organisationally robust but also employee-centric. They do this by facilitating the identification and mitigation of risks related to stress, interpersonal relationships and organisational culture, thereby fostering a work environment that is psychologically healthy and conducive to innovation and collaboration.
Harnessing technology for physical wellbeing
One new technology being used to support risk assessments is the cloud-based platform VelocityEHS. This solution can significantly enhance risk assessment processes by centralising data management, automating risk assessments, and ensuring compliance with relevant regulations. It also aids in identifying and scoring potential hazards, enables scheduling regular assessments, and sends automated alerts to relevant stakeholders. Its holistic approach ensures consistent, timely, and effective risk assessment and management across the organisation.
Innovative tools such as the Equipois ZeroG Arm help workers manage heavy equipment without physical strain. The ZeroG Arm nullifies the weight of hand-held tools, enabling workers to operate them as if weightless, thereby significantly reducing physical strain and mitigating risks related to musculoskeletal disorders.
Microsoft’s own Viva Insights platform integrates with workplace tools like Outlook to provide personalised insights into work patterns so it can nudge workers to take (screen) breaks and establish healthy routines, as needed, based on their behaviours.
Building mentally and emotionally safe workspaces
Mental health has rightly become a focus for the public conversation, and subsequently the role of the workplace in supporting good mental health. More than physical risks, psychological risks can often go unseen, especially when employees are working from home. As such, we’ve seen a swathe of new solutions hit the market to help support mental health and mitigate the risk of absence and aid retention.
For example, Moodbeam is a wearable designed to facilitate emotional wellbeing in the workplace. Employees can log their mood, which can then be analysed to ascertain the overall emotional health of the team or organisation. This data can be pivotal in identifying and mitigating psychosocial risks, ensuring that workplaces are supportive and conducive to emotional health.
Certification and compliance
Technology is also helping organisations achieve and maintain compliance, and gain certifications such as ISO 45001 – Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems.
For example, ISO 45001 compliance stipulates stringent occupational health and safety controls for which digital documentation and cloud-based systems can ensure organised, secure and accessible record-keeping. Similarly, Internet of Things (IoT) devices facilitate real-time monitoring of work environments and equipment, enabling prompt hazard identification and risk mitigation, while AI and machine learning algorithms enhance risk assessment by analysing patterns and predicting potential risks.
At British Assessment Bureau we developed BAB Activ, a web-based software platform that contains a suite of tools that enables organisations to develop and maintain an effective ISO compliance management system as well as integrate the activities needed to comply with ISO standards into your existing business processes. We have also developed another software tool called BAB ActivComply, that puts users in control of ISO legal compliance management.
Integrating technology and human-centric approaches: the way forward
As organisations forge further into the digital age, the amalgamation of technological and human-centric risk assessment tools presents a balanced pathway. It ensures that while leveraging the comprehensive and predictive capabilities of technologies like IoT, big data and AI, the human elements of ergonomics and psychosocial factors are not overshadowed.
The future of risk assessment and management hinges upon strategies that integrate the technology with an understanding of human factors. In a world where technology and human factors intersect across so many facets of operations, risk assessment strategies that encompass both dimensions will not only mitigate risks, but also foster an environment where technology and human capabilities synergistically drive organisational success. This approach not only safeguards organisational assets and sustainability but also enhances the capacity to innovate, adapt and thrive amidst the uncertainties and opportunities that define the contemporary business environment.