What is OSH management in the context of an ageing workforce?
Older workers are increasingly represented among the workforce. As people work longer hours, managing OSH for ageing workers has become a priority.
Increasing employment levels and extending working life have been important national and European policy objectives since the late 1990s. of the 20th century. The employment rate for 55- to 64-year-olds in the EU-27 increased from 40.5% in 2005 to 58.5% in 2018. This is still well below the employment rate of people aged 20 to 64, which was 72.6% in 2018.
The Europe 2020 strategy’s target of increasing the employment rate of the population aged 20-64 to 75% means that Europeans will have to work longer.
Many characteristics, such as wisdom, strategic thinking, holistic perception and prudence, appear or develop with age. Over the years, professional experience and expertise also increase.
However, some functional abilities, mainly physical and sensory, deteriorate during the natural ageing process. Potential changes in functional capabilities must be taken into account in the risk assessment and require appropriate adjustment of working conditions and place of performance.
Age-related functional changes are not uniform due to individual differences in lifestyle, nutrition, physical condition, genetic predisposition in terms of susceptibility to disease, educational level and nature of work and other environments.
Older workers are not a homogeneous group and there may be significant differences between people of the same age.
Age-related decline in capabilities mainly affects the physical and sensory abilities that are most important for hard physical work. The shift from mining and manufacturing to services and knowledge-based industries, as well as the increase in automation and mechanisation and the use of electrically powered equipment, are factors that have reduced the need for hard physical work.
In this situation, many of the skills and skills attributed to the elderly, such as interpersonal skills, customer service and quality awareness, are becoming more important.
Many age-related changes also affect the ability to perform some, but not all, of professional activities. For example, changes in the sense of balance are important for firefighters and emergency workers who work in extreme conditions, handling heavy equipment and moving people. On the other hand, the deterioration of the ability to assess the distance and speed of moving objects affects the ability to drive vehicles at night, but is not relevant for office workers.
Age is just one aspect of a diverse workforce. Age-sensitive risk assessment means taking into account the characteristics of different age groups, including potential changes in functional capacity and health status.
Risks relevant to older workers include in particular:
- hard physical work,
- risks associated with shift work,
- high/low temperature and noise in the workplace.
As individual differences increase over the years, assumptions cannot be made solely on the basis of age. The risk assessment should take into account the requirements of work in relation to a person’s skills and health.
A well-designed workplace benefits all ages, including the elderly. Changes in capabilities and capacities should be compensated for by changes in the organisation of work, such as, for example:
- redesign of the workplace or rotation,
- more frequent short breaks,
- better organisation of shift work, e.g. fast forward rotation (every 2-3 days),
- adequate lighting and noise reduction,
- ergonomic design of the devices,