Article: Workforce risk at 5-year high: International SOS

Employee Relations

Workforce risk at 5-year high: International SOS

COVID-19 has exacerbated health and security risks around the world, not just because of the virus itself but the social and political fallout of how it was handled. Research by International SOS identifies the top 5 risks.
Workforce risk at 5-year high: International SOS

The health and security risks faced by the workforce have reached their highest peaks since 2016, according to research released last week by health and security services firm International SOS.

The International SOS Risk Outlook 2021 report indicates that COVID-19 is the main cause of the increased risk: besides the obvious medical risks that the virus poses, the entire course of the pandemic, from its handling to its implications to the impact on workers, underlies the top five risks that International SOS predicts for 2021. These are:

  1. Eco-political turbulence: perceptions of how governments have handled the pandemic have affected international relations and domestic stability, especially in countries where the perceptions are negative

  2. Changes in the definition of duty of care practices: over the course of 2020, workplace health and safety have become commingled, affecting various roles and job functions, and also employer responsibilities

  3. Increased demand for reliable sources of information: the pandemic brought an "infodemic", with some experts estimating that the amount of COVID-19 information published in the last nine months is equivalent to half the amount of HIV information published in the last nine years, and much of the information has been seriously politicized

  4. Mental health issues will overtake even the direct impact of contracting the virus itself

  5. The creation of risk blind spots as a result of the intense focus on COVID-19

These risks will lead to at least two serious issues for employers. The first is the productivity gap. Risk professionals surveyed for the research predict that COVID-19 and other infectious diseases will be the top cause of productivity loss in 2021, with a rating of 91 percent—in comparison, the next four most serious causes are rated at 30-32 percent.

On top of this, mental health issues—already recognized as a burgeoning crisis by many employers—are expected to further affect productivity. International SOS's own prediction is that mental health will outstrip COVID-19 as a productivity killer, and that the issues will continue to be felt for years even after the pandemic is over.

Another major concern for employers, especially those supporting international assignees, is the risk of evacuation due to COVID-19. 2020 has already seen border closures around the world sparking a rush for expatriates to return home, or for people in high-risk locations to move to safer assignations. On top of this, International SOS found that socio-political unrest related to the pandemic has further increased security risks, including in regions already considered risky such as Africa and the Middle East.

Mick Sharp, Group Director Security Services at International SOS, said that not only have perennial safety and security issues continued despite the pandemic, they have been made worse, and at the same time, threat response has been made more difficult by COVID-19 medical considerations and movement restrictions.

“The findings have uncovered a disconnect and a potentially business threatening level of COVID-19 myopia," he observed. "Security issues have been exacerbated by the pandemic, particularly in relation to civil unrest and political protest. This has been driven by both COVID-related opportunism and existing divisions. Similarly, crime levels have increased in some locations, noting we are only at the beginning of the socio-economic and psychological fallout of the COVID-19 crisis."

The research also identified the top five health and security operational challenges organizations are likely to face in the coming year:

  1. Having adequate resources to deal with COVID-19

  2. Access to accurate and timely information on health and security threats

  3. Educating employees about risks

  4. Dealing with mental health issues

  5. Communicating during a crisis

International SOS has announced that it will be presenting its full Risk Outlook 2021 findings globally on December 10.

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Topics: Employee Relations

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