Ensuring Workplace Health and Safety for an Ageing Workforce

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In this essay I will be looking at what measures need to be put in place in the workplace to comply with regulations to Health and Safety that has an ageing workforce. I will be looking at various websites (see reference section) and will be making notes and giving evidence on my findings.

The age of the workplace is increasing this is due to the age of retirement going up and by lifespans increasing, therefore meaning people have to work longer , this has led to workplaces having to adapt the way they operate, at present one in every six people in work is over the age of 65, by the year 2033 this is believed to be as high as every one in four, contributing factors to this rise is the decline in births but at the same time with the increase in retirement age the removal of the mandatory retirement age means more people are given the opportunity to work longer, financial stability is another reason as to why people are working longer. The workplace should not just be for the young, and it shouldn’t be believed that a person’s age will directly affect the person’s ability to carry out their job.

It has been said that many older workers have a greater mental and physical ability of some people that are a lot younger than themselves. But despite this, it has been a factor that many employers look at the older employees with a belief that they will be more prone to illness and that the physicality of the job will be too much for them. This has been proven to not be the case as research has concluded that taken across the whole spectrum of the workplace that job performance is near enough similar, as is the absence due to sickness.

The rate in which a person’s abilities deteriorate is a lot slower than many people think, research has shown that musculoskeletal is not normal seen till 65 years of age but it can be seen from the age of 45 but this dependant of the task or job being performed, these injuries are becoming more and more frequent with postal workers, which range from back injuries, (RSI) Repetitive Strain Injuries to the most common now of plantar fasciitis, which has now been given the common name of Postman’s Foot. But where you find that the above issues will effect most workers there will some issues that particularly affect older women and these women are often neglected or overlooked, a recent survey found that women were more likely to suffer from stress, anxiety and depression, a factor in this could be contributed to the menopause. While many women feel that they need adjustments made and if only their mangers were more aware of the situation it has been found that only 37% of those affected ever feel that they can talk about what they are going through. Therefore, the menopause is still regarded as a taboo subject. The TUC has produced specific advice on this.

Also, it is said that you can’t teach older workers new things, but this is just a myth, learning can be done, but the way that its taught has to be adapted and that it may take a little bit longer to teach. In a report by the European Agency for Health and Safety at Work they stated that with age you become more rationale, your strategic thinking increases, you become more considerate, you are more aware of what’s going on around you, the way you also communicate also improves. But not all us are fortunate enough to make it to retirement. Those who are in low paid jobs and approx. 20% those in manual work will die before they reach retirement age, compared to just 7% of those of a higher social class.

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The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) believe that a workplace should be maintained and suitable for all ages. The EU-OHSA started a campaign in 2013 for a safer working place for all ages and this was top of the agenda at the agenda at the Healthy Workplace Summit that was held in Bilbao in Spain in 2017. The summit in Bilbao marked the end of the EU-OHSA latest campaign which had been ongoing for the previous 4 years. Over 350 delegates attended the event, which was held over 2 days, events included panel discussions with Q&A. The campaign had 4 key objectives:

  1. Promoting sustainable work and healthy aging from the start of the working life.
  2. Preventing health problems throughout the working life.
  3. Providing ways for employers to and workers to manage, occupational safety and health in the context of an ageing workforce.
  4. Encouraging the exchange of information and good practice.

The campaign was open to, managers, supervisors, trade unions, health and safety representatives, occupational health services (OHS), human resources and providers of training and education. The campaign found that by the year 2030 the % of the workforce that would be between the ages of 55-64 would be 30%.

That the those who were involved with the management of occupational safety and health would have to deal with more and more challenge this is due to the workforce working longer therefore increasing the time that they are exposed to risks, the potential for chronic health problems and those needing specific needs increases, that those of a certain age might be more vulnerable to certain hazards, that those who are in a job where the rate of work related problems that are due to physical, or mental workload must be took in to account, that rehabilitation, prevention of disabilities and the return to work are of increased importance.

The EU-OSHA recommend that risk assessments are at the forefront to the prevention of occupational accidents and ill health. However, there are laws that cover the ageing workforce, but as of yet there are none that are under the umbrella of Health and Safety, only that of the employer has a duty to protect the Health, Safety and Welfare of his workforce. There is also the need for them to carry out risk assessments and to provide any relevant training that is required to perform their Job, and that any risks that are identified that they are protected from the risks identified. Where age sensitive risks are identified you need to take in to account many factors, age, disability, gender, health.

Another tool that can be used in line with OSH is an age management tool, this is where you look at the following, (age profiling/age structure) you can look at the age of your workforce, it allows you to predict trends and put in place a plan in the workplace, you can also perform competency assessments, this will allow you to see where there is any gaps in the workplace with skills needed to complete the job, it will allow you to identify where you can put in training and where needed customise the training to suit the individual or a specific groups of workers. A work ability index is where you measure individuals work, this is through self-assessment questionnaires, it helps to identify if there will be any future potential in the ability of the individual to carry out the task, this method was developed by the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health.

It is unlawful and discriminatory for an employer to not employ or train someone on age, it has also since October 2011 been unlawful to force someone to take retirement purely because they have reached the state pension age, if they do they have to justify their reasons in doing so.

So, in summary then. The ageing workforce has the potential to offer a wide range of skills and abilities and it is the way that Employers use these factors to get the best of its workforce with the ever increasing age of those retiring due to the increase in the state pension age it’s down to employers to look after its workforce, it also gives the worker an increased resilience and a better mental health by being in meaningful employment. So, with measures in place that I have mentioned above I see that there is no reason as to why the workplace should not have a wide range of employees from all ages. The benefits are there for all.

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