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The future of work is a context that is rapidly being shaped by powerful forces; the growing adoption of artificial intelligence in the workplace, the increasing casualisation of the workforce, and the decentralised nature of where and how work is being performed.

This report centres on research and case studies that speculate the issues facing all workers in the workplaces of tomorrow, and poses a series of questions:

  • What is next for the workplace and workforce, what forces will shape the nature of work?
  • What are the implications for our productivity, effectiveness, but also broader safeness?
  • What is the role of design and innovation in addressing the growing complexity and unforeseen impact on the safety, welfare, and wellbeing of workers in our future realities?

This is a collaborative research and design project between RMIT University’s Safeness by Design initiative and the Innovation Centre of WorkSafe Victoria. Though the lens of ‘safeness’, the project speculates our work futures through supporting emerging designers to imagine detailed scenarios and reveal potential areas of concern. The research indicates that issues of safeness persist across certain industry contexts due to workplace cultures, practices, and predominant behaviours that inform unhealthy work actions and activities and encourage economic and time pressures alongside poor risk literacy, training and awareness.

This report examines techno centric narratives, environmental forecast and the theatrics of work more broadly to address research-identified issues across the following industry sectors and workplace contexts:

  • Enhancing the safety of future aged care workers
  • Reducing future hazards in a retail environment
  • Supporting and training urbanised agricultural communities
  • Supporting knowledge workers’ wellbeing in office culture
  • Reducing the health effects of stress and fatigue on decentralised workers
  • Understanding the complexities of automating work in a transport context

This research also reveals insights into how a ‘safeness by design’ lens can enable a more critical and contextual understanding of the future, facing the Australian workforce.

As we see an emerging re-distribution of roles and responsibilities, approaches to safety need to balance pre-emptive and reactive measures to better address the realities of labour forces and the needs of people in accelerating conditions. Primarily, the authors emphasise the fundamental need to create safe and supportive working environments for all workers and implement measures that protect individuals and communities from unsafe workplace behaviours.

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