No let-up in health and security risks next year, predicts International SOS survey

Despite an unquestionably risky 2021, more than two thirds (68%) of organisations think employee health and security risks will increase or stay the same next year, with Covid-19 still the top concern, according to a global survey by International SOS.

The medical and travel risk management firm warns that while Covid-19 remains a big concern, other risks, such as civil unrest and geopolitical issues, have actually grown during the pandemic and need to be on the radar in 2022.

The survey results and accompanying advice were published in the International SOS Risk Outlook 2022, which is based on a poll of nearly 1,000 risk professionals across 75 countries and insight from the Workforce Resilience Council.

Managing Covid-19 and the resulting mental health fallout are seen as the top challenges facing organisations next year.

A third (33%) of survey respondents said that having adequate resources to deal with the pandemic will be a top challenge in 2022, while just over a third (36%) expect mental health to cause a significant decrease in productivity.

Respondents from western Europe and the Americas feel more challenged by Covid-19 policies and the need to define vaccine testing and policies at 36%, than their global peers at 25%.

While the pandemic and mental health issues top the lists of concerns, other perennial security risks are expected to cause disruption in 2022.

With mounting focus on climate change, 21% of respondents predicted that natural disasters and extreme weather will be disruptive in 2022. This was closely followed by transport and concerns over local, domestic and international travel (19%), and then security threats and civil unrest on 16%.

Commenting on the report and updated global risk maps from International SOS, Dr Neil Nerwich, group medical director at the firm, said organisations face a “layered” threat environment next year, with more traditional risks coming back to the surface, on top of the problems caused by Covid-19.

“Entering the third year of the pandemic, while Covid-19 and the fallout from lockdowns continue to be major disruptors, other risks are coming back to the fore as travel resumes. With many experts predicting 2022 will be the year of the ‘great resignation’, organisations must act to ensure they provide the necessary support for employees,” he said.

Mick Sharp, group director of security services at International SOS, added: “In 2022 organisations must be aware that perennial security concerns such as crime, civil unrest, terrorism or other geopolitical issues have not gone away due to the pandemic. In many cases, the risks from these concerns have actually grown.”

Sharp warned that tensions around pandemic lockdowns, vaccine rollouts and perceived infringements on civil liberties have fuelled civil unrest and violence in some locations.

“With the increased use of vaccine mandates or restrictions on unvaccinated individuals around the world, we can expect to see tensions heighten throughout 2022. Aside from the Covid-19-related triggers, natural disasters, geopolitics, domestic conflict and crime will continue to impact organisations globally. This impact will further increase in 2022, with a growing return to travel and an increased focus on the duty-of-care requirements of an in-country workforce,” he added.

The survey results suggest that organisations feel investment is necessary to stay on top of the risks. Half of organisations said they intend to increase spending on mental and physical health support for employees in 2022.

International SOS said organisations need to identify internal and external crisis management “blindspots” and act now to make effective decisions and strengthen their resilience.

“They must keep travelling staff, as well as domestic workforces, reliably informed with objective, forward-leaning, location-specific health and security information. Staying on top of regulatory changes will also be critical, making sure they have the right processes in place to fulfil duty-of-care obligations,” said Sharp.

International SOS has also made five top risk predictions for next year to help organisations focus their efforts.

It believes Covid-19, long Covid and mental health will be primary employee productivity disrupters in 2022, which will escalate absenteeism and business continuity issues.

It predicts that the infodemic will continue to exacerbate the complex nature of protecting people, while duty-of-care obligations are set to be reshaped by new health-and-safety measures, employee expectations and regulatory compliance.

Thirdly, it feels that pandemic-disrupted activities will reach a degree of stability by 2023, as organisations utilise health and security risk management as a competitive advantage.

International SOS also fears that organisations risk being caught off-guard by rapidly changing security environments next year, with civil disorder and geopolitical volatility set to rise above pre-pandemic levels

And it said climate change will increase the frequency and impact of climate-sensitive hazards – such as infectious diseases, extreme weather events  and socioeconomic tensions – in 2022.

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