Caring for experienced workers

For the past two years, Safety Management has been a partner of the EU-OSHA campaign Healthy Workplaces for All Ages.

The magazine has supported this campaign that promoted sustainable working lives and safe and healthy working conditions for all ages in the belief that a healthy workplace is the one in which the skills and experience 

of older workers are appreciated and the vigour and skills of the younger ones are put together. We believe this helps to build more sustainable business.

A growing ageing workforce is one of the issues that most companies are facing or will be dealing with during the coming years, one which will have a profound impact on the competitiveness of companies of all sizes and in the society as a whole.

Potential changes in functional capacities must be taken into account in risk assessments. Photograph: iStock/PointImages

Ageing population

Decreasing birth rates and increasing longevity, better education and better access to quality health services are the main reasons for the increase of life expectancy. However, increased life expectancies do not necessarily result in a healthier population. Healthy life years (HLY) expectancy – an indicator of the number of years a person of a certain age can expect to live without a disability – has not increased to the same degree as general life expectancy over the last decades.

In addition, there are major differences between countries and between men and women. The EU old-age dependency ratio – the ratio of people of working age (15-65) to people aged over 65 – is increasing and will rise further in the forthcoming years (see data visualisation tool here).

The employment target of the Europe 2020 strategy – to increase the employment rate of the population aged 20–64 years to 75% – means that people in Europe will have to work for longer.

Older workers

Many attributes, such as wisdom, strategic thinking, holistic perception and the ability to deliberate, either increase or first emerge with increasing age, as well as expertise. But some capacities decline because of the natural ageing process.

These potential changes in functional capacities must be taken into account in risk assessments, while the work environment and the job themselves needs to be modified to address those changes.

Besides, older workers are not a homogeneous group. Age-related changes in functional capacity are not uniform because of individual differences in lifestyle, nutrition, fitness, genetic predisposition to illness, educational level, and work and other environments. Therefore, there can be considerable differences between individuals of the same age. Understanding these differences and thinking about them can help to shape the working practices.

Since people’s health in later life is affected by their health behaviour earlier in life, the workplace has a key role to play in promoting a healthy lifestyle and supporting activities that prevent physical decline, thus help to maintain work ability.

As the two-year campaign Healthy Working Lives for All ages comes to an end, we think that it has succeeded in placing the topic of the ageing working population in the public agenda. Safety Management has certainly done so, publishing a number of articles on the topic, but this is just the beginning of the debate. We will make sure the topic is regularly in the public debate.

The Healthy Workplaces for All Ages campaign website is still running here with posters, tools and research freely available