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December 4, 2020

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The 2022 State of Physical Access Control Report

International SOS risk outlook shows global workforce security risk reaches five year high

According to the findings of the International SOS Risk Outlook 2021, the risk level to the global workforce has reached its highest since 2016. Over 1400 risk professionals across 99 countries were surveyed.

IntSOS-RiskOutlook-20International SOS top five risk outlook 2021 predictions:

  • 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
  • Singular focus on COVID-19 will create risk blind spots

Unsurprisingly, 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 respondents from the USA were most likely to report an increase in risk (91%). 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%).

Dr Neil Nerwich, Group Medical Director at International SOS comments: “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, organisations 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.”

The productivity gap 2021

The 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 one in three 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).

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.

“It is understandable that, to varying degrees, the general population and business are more focussed on the demands and application of COVID-related precautions. However, perennial security and safety issues have not abated, graphically illustrated by the recent terror attacks in Vienna among others. Similarly, responding to high impact threats such as Natural Disasters has gained another layer of complexity due to COVID-19 medical considerations and fluid travel restrictions.”

73% of risk professionals surveyed predict that COVID-19 medical reasons will be most likely cause of evacuation next year.

  • This increases to 80% for respondents based in Asia.
  • One in three (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.
  • And security threats continue to be important in Africa & Middle East, where 37% of respondents think these would cause evacuation next year, notably higher than other regions (25% overall). As reflected on the International SOS Security risk map, over 55% of countries in Africa are now fully or partially in high or extreme security risk level, with increases this year militancy or insurgency.

Top five operational challenges for organisations in ensuring the health and security of all your employees

1.     Having adequate resources to deal with COVID-19 54%
2.     Access to accurate & timely information on health & security threats 40%
3.     Educating employees about risks 35%
4.     Dealing with mental health issues 33%
5.     Communicating during a crisis 33%


The Risk Outlook 2021 will be presented at global webinars on 10 December 2020. To register, click here.

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