AI seen as productivity enabler while workplaces get safer

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While much has been said of the potential of AI to replace human workers across swathes of the labour force, most survey respondents do not share this view, finds this year’s QBE SME Survey for Singapore.

605 SMEs were surveyed between December 2023 and January 2024, whereby Singaporean SME business leaders were polled for their views on operational risks that most affect SMEs – covering the areas of cybersecurity, AI, and workplace safety and health (WSH).

One-third (32%) of survey respondents expect AI to eventually replace or take over jobs in their company.

About a third of SMEs (30%) said that AI was a threat to business activity, but interviewees were mostly unconcerned about the nefarious potential of AI, with only 15% concerned about an AI-instigated cyber-attack; 10% concerned over privacy issues and identity breaches caused by AI; and a mere 6% concerned with data leakages brought about by the advanced technology.   

Overall, almost half (49%) said that AI has had and/or will have an impact on their business productivity, particularly a positive one the data suggests, in the areas of automated response (6%), routine manual work/tasks (6%) and finance/accounting/audit functions (4%).

Mr. Goh commented, “AI certainly has the potential to be a great enabler of better productivity, and I would urge SMEs not to lose sight of the risks as they embrace this technology and all the benefits that can come with it.”

Workplace safety incidents decreasing, with mental health slightly taking a backseat

Action taken by SMEs in the last 12 months have improved health and safety overall, with 63% reporting no workplace safety incidents this year, compared to 55% last year. The top three actions taken by SMEs to ensure worker safety were fire safety (44%), electrical safety (37%) and general workplace training (37%).

Comparatively, the top three actions that were taken the year prior were fire safety (54%), electrical safety (47%), and machinery, plant and equipment safety (40%), indicating a safer physical working environment.

At the same time, the proportion of SMEs that find mental health either very important or somewhat important fell slightly from 94% last year to 89% this year.

Nonetheless, 51% of SMEs feel that mental health is very important within the WSH paradigm , while 89% overall feel it’s important. The steps taken by these businesses to ensure metal and physical wellbeing include offering flexible work hours (44%), work-from-home arrangements (35%), and health and wellness benefits (28%). In addition to offering wellness programmes and benefits to support employee wellbeing, implementing a comprehensive Employee Compensation Insurance (ECI) plan can aid businesses in safeguarding themselves.