Today, older workers are forgoing traditional retirement and choosing to stay in the workforce longer. Some are doing that out of financial necessity, others just enjoy work life. Either way, it is good news for companies all round as experienced workers not only possess valuable knowledge and skills, research suggests they also tend to have lower absenteeism, a stronger work ethic, and higher productivity and efficiency. But what are the considerations around employing an older workforce?
Under health and safety law, employers must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of all their workers, irrespective of age. Employers must also provide adequate information, instruction, training and supervision to enable workers to carry out their work safely. Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, employers have a duty to assess workplace risks to the health and safety of their workers. This includes identifying groups of workers who might be particularly at risk, which could include older workers.
Whilst a separate risk assessment is not necessarily required for older workers, if there are any issues that arise at work because there are older workers employed these have to be identified by the risk assessment, and any risk must be removed or reduced ‘as far as is reasonably practical’. It is often the case that, for physiological reasons, older colleagues are more susceptible to certain hazards than their younger counterparts. It must be noted, however, that a workplace culture which values all staff and provides decent working conditions for everyone is likely to need to make fewer adjustments to accommodate individual needs.
Changes you may consider include:
- Allowing older workers more time to absorb health and safety information or training, for example through self-paced training
- Introducing opportunities for older workers to choose other types of work
- Designing manual handling tasks to eliminate or minimise the risk
Organisations should make sure all workers have full and equal access to occupational health and wellbeing support and appropriate physical adjustments, equipment and flexible working arrangements, and all forms of adaptation are seen as normal by staff. Flexible working arrangements, reduced hours or ability to adjust the time and place of work are fundamental to making work more age-friendly.
Perform ergonomic assessments
In addition to regular safety inspections, ergonomic assessments are also a productive way to protect workers as they age. Screen magnification, sit-stand desks and chairs with specialised back support can all help older workers.
Promote health and wellness
The UK population is ageing rapidly, with the number of people aged 65 and over growing by nearly half in the past 30 years. People living longer is a cause for celebration, but older people are more vulnerable to chronic disease. The four most common conditions are heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes and can impact not only one’s ability to work, but also their overall quality of life.
As such, workplace wellness programs that encourage employees to eat healthy, exercise, get regular preventive screenings, and manage stress and chronic illness are good for everyone – but especially for older workers.
Older workers are a valuable resource and make a positive contribution to organisations and age diversity at work brings benefits to individuals, workplaces and wider society, such as a broader range of skills and experience. For further information on the considerations around employing an older workforce or any other health and safety issues, please contact us here.