Workforce health, security risk reaches 5-year high

Around 8 in 10 professionals said the health and security risks face by the global workforce increased in 2020, reaching to a five-year high in 2021, a concern acutely felt in Asia, according to a recent survey.

This was revealed by International SOS Risk Outlook 2021 from the Business Resilience Trends survey of over 1,400 risk professionals across 99 countries, carried out by Ipsos MORI. The outlook also brings together insights from the Workforce Resilience Council and extensive International SOS proprietary data.

International SOS noted that results of the survey are not surprising. According to the survey,  around eight in ten risk professionals believe the health and security risks faced by the workforce increased in 2020 (specifically for “domestic employees” (85%), “assignees” (81%), “student and faculty” (80%), “business travellers” (79%) and “remote workers” (77%)).

Around half believe that this will increase further in 2021, a concern most acutely felt in Asia, especially among those responsible for assignees (60%) and business travellers (60%).

The heightened level of professionals’ health and security also aligned with the top five predictions of International SOS 2021 predictions that include ecopolitical turbulence will exacerbate tensions, civil unrest and crime; pandemic borne crisis management teams will redefine Duty of Care practices; the growing infodemic will increase demand for trusted sources of health & security information and advice; mental health issues will be a primary productivity disruptor; and singular focus on Covid-19.

The respondents from the USA were most likely to report an increase in risk (91%), the International SOS said. This is alongside a degradation in trust in local governments & health bodies; seen as a key challenge for a third (31%) of risk professionals surveyed – most acutely felt in the Americas (40%).

For business travellers alone, the statistics follow a low in 2018 (47%), and the previous high in 2016 (72%), when terror attacks in locations previously considered safe may have been front of mind.

In a statement, Dr. Neil Nerwich, Group Medical Director at International SOS commented, “The Covid-

19 pandemic has created a tripartite of crises, with public health, geopolitical and economic crises all impacting the workforce and business on a global scale. This has been exacerbated by an infodemic in an increasingly complex world environment. While the news of a potential vaccine is very positive and resources, including our Covid-19 website content and assistance services with Covid-19 evacuation capability, are providing direction and support, organizations will need to go through an evolution in their Duty of Care provisions. Just as 9/11 changed the way that employers saw their Duty of Care with respect to security issues, so the pandemic is destined to have a lasting change to employer approach to employee health threats.”

Nerwich said the pandemic has triggered Board level decision-making on health issues, the increasing need for real-time expert medical guidance, and organizational responsibility for employee wellbeing including those working from home.

As organizations strive to get back to business operations, Newich sad “Covid-19 will be the prism that most other risks will be seen through.” He said that perceptions of traditional health responsibility need to be aligned to global best practice and, as such, the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) will come into greater focus. As Travel progressively opens again to support the recovery of the global economy, this will need to be done safely and sustainably, tackling the issues of traveller well-being and confidence.

In terms of productivity, majority of risk professionals surveyed feel that infectious disease (including Covid-19, Malaria, Dengue, Ebola, Zika, etc.) will cause a decrease in employee productivity in the next year, and 1 in 3 respondents (apart from those responsible for Students and Faculty) are anticipating mental health issues to also contribute. This rises to 43% among those responsible for Students and Faculty surveyed. However, in stark contrast, the Workforce Resilience Council experts predict that mental health issues will overtake Covid-19 next year. 

Other risks also fell greatly behind as a concern for many of the respondents, including country risk rating, transport concerns and security threats. Those responsible for business travellers surveyed, cited ‘geopolitical threats’ (30%), ‘civil unrest’ (25%) and ‘security threats’ (32%) notably less than last year (52%, 52% and 68% respectively).

Nearly a third of risk professionals surveyed (28%) cited the ability to evacuate employees when necessary as a challenge in ensuring their health and security. This is felt most acutely by respondents supporting assignees (39%) and those based in Africa & the Middle East, and Japan (37% respectively).

The Outlook showed that 73 percent of risk professionals surveyed predict that Covid-19 medical reasons will be most likely cause of evacuation next year. This increases to 80 percent for respondents based in Asia.

One in 3 (31%) of those surveyed cite border closure, this rises to 40% for respondents in Australia and 50% in Singapore, while a fifth (21%) of all respondents think that natural disasters are the most likely cause, this rises to 34% of respondents in USA and 36% of respondents in Japan.

Mick Sharp, Group Director Security Services at International SOS, said, “The findings have uncovered a disconnect and a potentially business threatening level of Covid-19 myopia. 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.