Focus

Focus Archive

Horizon Scanning - monitoring future health and safety in the workplace

February 2005

Horizon scanning is the process by which governments and organisations ensures that they are aware of changes in the medium to long-term future that could have an impact on its ability to act as an effective and efficient promoter and regulator of health and safety.

The aim of horizon scanning is to systematically anticipate, identify and prepare for new or changing risks in the workplace and to consider the implications that new and emerging issues will have on the distribution of resources, existing priorities and delivery for health and safety.

In the UK, the Health and Safety Executive, have, through the Health and Safety Laboratories (HSL) setup a team that will act as a hub to collect and analyse intelligence. www.hse.gov.uk/horizons/index.htm

The UK HSL Horizon scanning will cover a wide range of developments including:

The EurOhse2005 conference www.eurohse2005.com to be held in London on 3-14 September 2005 will have a speaker discussing horizon scanning and occupational safety and health.

In the USA the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and its partners unveiled the National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA), a framework to guide occupational safety and health research into the next decade - not only for NIOSH but for the entire occupational safety and health community. Approximately 500 organizations and individuals outside NIOSH provided input into the development of the Agenda. Before NORA, no national research agenda existed in the field of occupational safety and health, and no research agenda in any field had captured such broad input and consensus. The NORA process resulted in a remarkable consensus about the top 21 research priorities www.cdc.gov/niosh/nora/about.html

The same in happening in health care around the world - e.g. in Australia, The Horizon Scanning Unit in the Department of Public Health of the University of Adelaide has become the sole government provider of leading edge advice on health technology in Australia and New Zealand through a new network called the Australian Horizon Scanning Network. www.adelaide.edu.au/news/news643.html

It is directed by Professor Janet Hiller, Head of Department of Public Health, the Unit provides advice to the Australian Commonwealth, States, Territories and New Zealand Ministry of Health on emerging health technologies, new devices, novel diagnostic tests and procedures.

"It is imperative to evaluate the impact these new and emerging technologies may have on our current health system if introduced," Professor Hiller says.

"New health technologies, procedures or services are often introduced into the health system without warning or in an uncontrolled manner. This can have serious implications on the public health care system including increased costs to patients, lack of trained professionals, and ethical considerations," she says.

The Australian Horizon Scanning Unit is responsible for preparing documents addressing new and emerging technological information. In order for staff at the Department of Public Health to have an international perspective on medical technologies, they are constantly scanning a wide range of media outlets such as the World Wide Web, medical articles, licensed agents, or seeking expert opinion from a range of professionals.

The Horizon Scanning Unit provides 'early warning' to policy makers of emerging technologies that may have significant impact on the health system. By providing evidence-based briefing documents on technologies, this alerts planners and policy makers in advance of the potential impact in terms of safety, effectiveness, cost and ethical considerations before being introduced into the health system.