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24th March 2017
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Extending working lives
The European workforce is ageing fast. By 2030, employees aged over 55 are expected to make up 30% or more of the total workforce in many EU countries. In the UK, 30% or more of the total workforce is already over 50 years' old, while 60 year and older employees constitute 23% of the workforce, and this figure is set to rise to 30.7% by 2020*.
This demographic trend creates significant challenges and opportunities for both employers and their workforces. That's why the European Agency for Safety & Health at Work (EU-OSHA) launched the Healthy Workplaces for All Ages campaign this month. It is set to alert European employers to the urgency of the situation and the need to respond to it in a positive way.
The aims of the 2016-2017 Healthy Workplaces for All Ages campaign are:
- promotion of sustainable work and healthy ageing and the importance of risk prevention throughout working life;
- assisting employers and workers of all ages by providing information and tools for managing occupational safety and health (OSH) in the context of an ageing workforce, and
- facilitation of information and good practice exchange in this area.
Dr Christa Sedlatschek, Director of EU-OSHA, explains: "The new campaign is not about age itself, but about ageing throughout working life. We need to improve the working lives of all generations of workers, promoting sustainable work and healthy ageing. Risk prevention will be at the core of this."
The British Safety Council, the champion of health & safety in Britain and the thought leader of the sector, gives its wholehearted support to this initiative. Mike Robinson, chief executive of the British Safety Council, says: "The official retirement age in EU Member States is increasing. In the next two decades, a large proportion of employees over 50 will leave work for ever, taking their market expertise, professional experience and skills with them.
"Meanwhile the demographic data suggests that there is unlikely to be a sufficient supply of younger people in Britain who would replace retiring workers. These facts cannot be ignored by any employer.
"Retaining older workers will become not only an economic but also a social imperative. The companies that would be prepared to retain older employees will remain more competitive and diverse, with a greater pool of skills and talent. However, longer working lives would mean greater exposure to a variety of health-related risks. The management of issues such as disability prevention, rehabilitation and return to work will increase in importance. Older workers are also more vulnerable to certain hazards, particularly in an industrial work environment. Therefore, the introduction of specific measures to ensure work safety and the efficiency of older employees, as well as age-sensitive risk assessments, would have to become a key part of occupational health and safety policies."
Iris Cepero, editor of the British Safety Council's monthly publication Safety Management, which regularly addresses the challenges of ageing workforce in Britain, comments: "We are delighted to support the EU-OSHA campaign which deals with one of the most fundamental issues in modern society that cannot be ignored by any business wishing to remain competitive.
"The sustainable management of an ageing workforce is challenging: some existing employment practices need to be reconsidered, management training is necessary and in some cases it is essential to influence existing mindsets that equate older employees with higher-than average costs and illness.
"Truly modern employers understand that by providing an age-friendly working environment, they are creating a committed and motivated workforce of all ages."
22nd April 2016