Age Diversity: Protecting Older Workers’ Health and Safety
Fri, 16 Aug 2019 10:15
There are more older people in the workforce than ever before. People over 50 now make up 31% of the workforce, an increase from 21% in the early 1990s. On average, we're living longer, healthier lives – with work as a key factor, either full-time or part-time.
This offers significant benefits to the older people who choose to work, securing enhanced pensions and better financial security. For many, later life work is a lifeline, guarding against isolation and offering a chance to actively use their skills daily. It's more acceptable than ever to retrain for a second career, using the skills developed in the original job route, trying something entirely new or monetising a long-held passion.
With more experienced workers bringing a wealth of expertise and knowledge to British workplaces, employers need to consider how they make this group most welcome – and make sure their health and safety is taken into account. They are statistically more likely to be facing specific pressures outside of work; a quarter of older female workers, and one in eight older male workers, combine caring responsibilities with their jobs. People in their 50s and 60s are more likely than other age groups to be providing care to friends and family. Though all age groups have issues that affect them disproportionately and these statistics will of course not be relevant in all cases, it's important to consider extending flexibility in the cases where they do apply. Indeed, offering flexible working can be beneficial for retaining employees of all ages.
68-year-old Dennis Parker was killed at work in Nottingham after falling from height whilst working on a tree with a chainsaw. He was not wearing the correct protective clothing and there was a suggestion that he hadn't received adequate training and preparation for the work he was doing.
Sadly, this tragic case is not a one-off. Older workers are more likely than their younger colleagues to be involved in a fatal accident. In 2018/19, 20% of fatal workplace accidents involved people aged 60 or over, even though the age group makes up just 10% of the workforce.
This doesn't mean employers should shy away from choosing older workers for physically demanding work. It simply means they need to be mindful that people in this age bracket are more at risk of fatal accidents and to prepare accordingly, taking into account any health issues that are present.
Training should be good quality and refreshed regularly. People of all ages should be encouraged to speak up if they have a health and safety concern, or if they don't feel they can complete a task in a safe manner.
There has rightly been a lot of focus on increasing diversity in teams. Usually, these conversations centre around gender, race, sexual orientation or disability. Building age diverse teams has often been left out of consideration.
As with any other form of diversity, creating a mixture of ages strengthens a team and allows people to bring different perspectives to the table. Someone just starting out on a career path can learn a lot from somebody who has worked in that area for decades; likewise, younger people might bring a fresh approach and encourage the adoption of new concepts and technologies to improve processes.
As society ages and people live longer, more healthy lives, businesses that harness the benefits that employing older workers bring will be at a significant advantage.