Download the Insight report on global safety challenges

Executive summary

Many of us are not even aware of the critical infrastructures that make our lives possible, let alone how our lives or the lives of those that come into contact with these infrastructures are affected when they go wrong. By infrastructures we mean things like supply of water, power and food or transportation and communications.

This report summarises the results of an open consultation process that asked a simple question: Where is safety challenged? in particular, in the context of where people interact with critical infrastructure and where is safety of critical infrastructure is itself threatened.

A consultation with those who best understand the infrastructures, industry and academia, was led by the Nesta Challenge Prize Centre using a combination of interviews, expert workshops, an open online survey, and outputs from previous Nesta projects.

As the consultation evolved it became clear that concerns not only centred on the infrastructure operated today but also about the infrastructure that will be enabled by technology tomorrow.

Twelve main themes were identified around the challenges identified.

  • Safe operation of drones now and in the future
  • Safe operation of autonomous systems
  • Critical infrastructure that is safe from cyber attack
  • Safety of complex systems in high-hazard industries
  • Fossil-fuelled transport and industry that do not create unsafe air
  • Safe supply chains for medical waste
  • Safe supply chains for electronic waste
  • Ensuring safety at sea
  • Safety in the fishing industry
  • Safety of supersized structures
  • Making food supply chains safe
  • Safety of water and water infrastructure

What is clear from the above themes is that the challenges cover a broad range of industries. It has also been possible to try and identify some broad trends across multiple themes. These trends are:

  • decommissioning (for example, disposal of e-waste, ships, medical waste, etc)
  • cyber security, connectivity and internet of things (for example, malicious and accidental failures)
  • human factors (how people’s actions significantly affect safety)
  • updating standards in light of new technology (for example, safety regulation for increasing complex connected infrastructures)
  • controlled return to safe state (for example, emergency evacuation of large structures and controlled failure of complex systems).

Specific challenges identified in this report are based upon the opinions of the small sample that have taken part in the consultation process. Before any of these challenges are considered further it is very important to explore them further to better understand their relevance and significance.