Healthy Workplaces for all Ages

30 August 2018

“By focusing on sustainable working conditions throughout working life, not only can all workers better protect their health, but companies are likely to see major benefits too. Healthy workers are productive workers, and productive workers are essential to the organization: it’s a win-win situation.”

A Healthy Workplace for Older Workers

Workplace health and safety is a win for business, workers, and all parties involved. There were 3,876 fatalities in the EU as a result of accidents in the workplace according to the most recent figures from Eurostat. This was an increase of 102 on the previous year and 20% of these fatalities were in the construction sector. A great many of these lives could be saved and many thousands of other injuries prevented if risks were anticipated and sensible safety measures implemented.

Industries like construction have a higher proportion of older workers because of the skills gap that exists throughout much of Europe and the Western World. By 2030, workers aged 55–64 are expected to make up 30 % or more of the workforce in many European countries. The age of retirement is being extended to take this into account. This means individuals will working longer and an employer’s safety policy should reflect these societal changes.

The Skills Gap

However, as many industries in heavy industry are in the midst of a skills gap, workforces often tend to have more older than younger workers. In the UK, workers over the age of 50 make up about a third of the workforce, a higher number than average across all industries. In many ways, construction is still recovering from the 2009 Financial Crash, with many workers who left the industry then never having returned or been replaced.

The skills gap is further exacerbated by the gender imbalance that exists in construction. Even now, only 12.7% of the construction workforce in the UK is female. This gender profile has remained largely unchanged for the past 20 years, showing that there is still a lot of work to be done in this area to catch up with the general industry. This means that there is a massive human resource that is currently largely untapped.

Key to Ensuring a Healthy Workplace for All Workers

Employer’s are responsible for the safety of all their workers and need to ensure that their safety culture and training is suitable for all their workers. However, there are vulnerable groups, like inexperienced workers and older workers, who need to be paid particular attention for different reasons.

  • Younger workers do not have the inherent knowledge of older workers who have decades of experience under their belts. This is why training is so important for younger workers.
  • Older workers may have the knowledge to keep them safe but may also not have the same physical capabilities they once had, or compared to younger co-workers. Employers should pay attention to their older workers and whether some of their duties should be altered in the interest of safety.

GoContractor is delighted to take part in the European initiative and help promote the safety and wellbeing of older workers. GoContractor provides training that can be heavily customized and we understand that different groups have different requirements. Older workers have specific concerns that need to be addressed by employers to ensure consistent levels of productivity and safety.

Older Worker Injuries

Older workers are more likely to suffer from disabilities and Musculoskeletal injuries (MSD’s) than younger workers. These injuries usually stem from repetitive work conducted over a lengthy period of time which puts long-serving workers at the most risk. Proper ergonomic practices can significantly help to reduce these risks. In heavy industry, all workers, regardless of their age, are often required to perform manual handling, which is responsible for a large portion of MSD’s.

Older workers are more at risk of some injuries purely because of the length of time they’ve been working. Due to their experience, older workers are less likely to suffer injuries. However, any accidents they do have can be more severe because they are more likely to have underlying medical conditions than younger workers. The level of manual labor can add up over time and pose a risk to experienced workers who may be suffering from chronic injuries. Employers need to provide an inclusive work environment where individuals feel empowered to make it clear that they have special safety requirements.

Healthy Workplace for All Ages

The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work’s (EU-OSHA) campaign, ‘Healthy workplaces for all ages’, aims to:

  • Promote sustainable work and healthy aging throughout people’s working lives
  • Provide employers and employees with information and tools to help manage the occupational safety and health of an aging workforce
  • Facilitate the exchange of information and good practice in this area.

The EU has taken a forward-looking view on this and developed initiatives to encourage the safe involvement of older people in the workforce. It’s important to recognize that older workers are an advantage not a negative in the workforce. They are more experienced and can help pass on their skills to younger colleagues, leader to a greater overall level of competence.

You shouldn’t forget that older workers have a lot of knowledge that comes from their years of experience. Don’t let this knowledge go to waste. Send out surveys and hold regular meetings and safety committees to utilize this resource. There is a real benefit in improving communication as it means that hazards are more likely to be reported, resulting in a more healthy workplace. A good initiative is to have a competition for who can spot the most hazards, as it helps contribute to a healthy workplace.  

Their additional experience means that older workers are, in general, less likely to be injured. They also add a lot to your company culture because of their high communication skills and a general level of maturity that can’t be expected from younger workers. The ideal situation is to have a blended workplace made up of older and younger workers which optimizes the skills of both groups.

How Online Training Can Help

The best time to promote a healthy workplace is right at the start, as workers are being onboarded. Use your orientations to provide safety training suitable for all age groups. GoContractor’s online platform can be customized to suit all workers to ensure a safe and healthy workplace. Older workers are an invaluable resource and quality orientations will maximize their capabilities, as well as showing that you value their contributions. A healthy workplace means reduced costs and improved retention rates among all employees.

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Jenny Snook
Jenny Snook

Jenny Snook is content executive at GoContractor with the job of researching the latest health and safety trends in the heavy industry. Her past-experience includes the research of large museum collections such as the Louth County Museum, many from the industrial age.

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