Growing Old Safely at Work
The health and safety challenges presented by an ageing workforce
Health and safety with an ageing workforce
An older workforce is the future. With planned rises in State Pension age and ever-increasing life expectancy, people want or need to stay in work for longer. This is no minor matter for employers: in just two years time it is predicted that one third of the UK workforce will be aged over 50.
But despite this, many employers will be unsure of how to approach the health and safety of their older employees. Do they need special treatment to stay safe at work? Should they be covered by extra risk assessments once they reach a certain vintage? The answer is not to single out workers of more advanced years as problematic - these attitudes and stereotypes might be the biggest barrier to people continuing productive work into their sixties and beyond. When it comes to Health and Safety, it can be argued that having more mature workers is a thoroughly good thing. The Health and Safety Executive guidance suggests that the experience and attitude of older workers working alongside younger people can improve the overall safety level of the workplace. For any possible decline that might come with age, for example in reaction time or working memory, safety is unlikely to be affected because “older individuals can generally compensate for them with experience, better judgement and job knowledge”.
Despite these positive assertions, there are growing challenges with having an ageing workforce. Of the 7.2 million people aged 50-64 who are employed, 42 per cent are living with a health condition or disability. Also, although there is little evidence to show that older workers are at greater risk of workplace accidents than younger workers, when accidents do occur they might result in more serious injury and those workers may take longer to recover.
Long term plan
So the increased proportion of older workers cannot be ignored. Company leaders need to develop an approach that allows employees to work safely and adjust to changes that come with age. Health screenings and initiatives to boost personal health and wellbeing must play a part - if people are aware of their own conditions and difficulties, they can take them into account when approaching their work and inform employers when they face increased challenges. Technology can often be used to reduce the physical strain of many tasks. Safety training needs to be delivered in a way that can be fully absorbed by all employees: the HSE suggests more self-paced training. More flexible working opportunities could also help everyone work safely and productively.
If employers put good sense before stereotypes and make plans for an ageing workforce, there is everything to gain and nothing to lose.
McCormack Benson Health and Safety can help companies across a variety of sectors develop a thoughtful and practical approach to maintaining safety for an evolving workforce.