By Leon Brimble – SMAS Worksafe Assessor
The recent Health and Safety Executives statistics revealed that in the 12 months leading up to the end of March 2019, over a quarter of the people killed at UK workplaces were over 60 years old, despite the group forming only 10% of the UK workforce.
Workers aged between 60 and 64 were twice as likely to die in a workplace accident last year compared with the average for all other age groups.
There is now an urge for employers to improve protection for older workers, however more than a quarter of fatal injuries involved self-employed workers. Employment tenure appears to be one of the most important issues affecting older workers. Being directly employed rather than self-employed is felt to be associated with a more favourable working environment for the older worker, especially in terms of the impacts on ill-health and early retirement.
Our working lives seem to be getting longer and ageing workers and their experience should be properly valued, so they feel encouraged to keep working and become part of a multi-generational workforce. 19% of the construction workforce is due to retire in the next 5-10 years, possibly leading to over 200,000 vacancies.
Many construction jobs are very physically demanding and so it’s not always possible to safely extend the retirement age for all sectors of the industry. There are more health and safety risks associated with older workers, but they and all other working people, have the right to expect their health, safety and wellbeing not to be put at risk whilst at work. Regardless of the increased risk of injury and ill health, older workers want to stay in the industry. Employers and self-employed must therefore ensure, they have strong measures in place to protect these groups.
Guidance for employers who employ individuals should:
- Review their risk assessments if anything significant changes, not just when an employee reaches a certain age.
- Not assume that certain jobs are physically too demanding for older workers, many jobs are supported by technology, which can absorb the physical strain.
- Think about the activities older workers do, as part of your overall risk assessment and consider whether any changes are needed.
- Allowing older workers more time to absorb health and safety information or training, for example by introducing self-paced training.
- Introducing opportunities for older workers to choose to move to other types of work.
- Designing tasks that contain an element of manual handling in such a way that they eliminate or minimise the risk.
- Think about how your business operates and how older workers could play a part in helping to improve how you manage health and safety risks. This might include having older workers working alongside colleagues in a structured programme, to capture knowledge and learn from their experience.
- Avoid assumptions by consulting and involving older workers when considering relevant control measures to put in place. Extra thought may be needed for some hazards. Consultation with your employees helps you to manage health and safety in a practical way.
As older workers constitute a greater proportion of the available workforce, employers will need to adapt to accommodate the different needs of an older workforce.
While many stereotypical views pervade about older people, attitudes towards ageing and work are changing; with increasing numbers of employers regarding older workers as a valuable asset. There is still more that could be done within workplaces to dispel prevailing myths and to promote multi-generational working. Longer working life has implications for employers’ health and safety responsibilities. Since the effects of some occupational exposures, (e.g. noise is cumulative), employers should take more affirmative action to control exposure at work to reduce health impairments at older ages, when they will have significant consequences to quality of life.
In some jobs, employers will have to consider providing reasonable adjustments to accommodate different worker requirements, particularly where there are heavy physical demands and long hours. That said, jobs should be made safe for all workers. For workers to remain productive there must be a good fit between work demands, their working environment and their bio-psychosocial needs.