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Older workers

IOSH policy position on ageing workforces

Many countries have ageing workforces, with retirement ages rising and working lives becoming longer. Older workers are a valuable resource and make a positive contribution to organisations. We need to ensure safe and healthy working conditions for all.

The facts about older workers

  • It is estimated that a third of workers in developed countries will be over 60 by 2050.
  • The European Union information agency for occupational safety and health (EU-OSHA) estimates that by 2030 workers aged over 55 will make up 30% or more of total workforces in many European countries.
  • We know that rewarding work is good for physical and mental health and that effective management of occupational safety and health (OSH) helps ensure all workers can fulfil their potential at work.
  • The impact of ageing on workers is as varied as the individuals concerned and many countries have increased or eliminated a mandatory retirement age.
  • Workforce predictions vary. For example, 13.5 million UK job vacancies are estimated between 2012 and 2022 – but with only seven million young school- and college-leavers, older workers are needed to fill the gap.
  • Research concludes that the functional effects of physical, sensory and cognitive changes to older workers can often be minimised and that knowledge, experience and skills can compensate for reduced speed, with improved accuracy and quality.
  • Extended working lives potentially result in longer exposure to hazards at work, unless those risks are properly managed.
  • A higher proportion of older workers means there will be more people with chronic health conditions at work, making good rehabilitation and return-to-work of increasing importance.
  • IOSH actively supported the EU-OSHA campaign healthy workplaces for all ages, which provided e-guides for OSH professionals, employers, HR managers and workers; practical tools and guidance; case studies; and campaign materials.
  • EU-OSHA has undertaken a range of research around older workers, including country inventories, and rehabilitation and return-to-work and has also identified examples of workplace good practices.
  • Eurofound reports that poor work conditions harm work sustainability for all ages and highlights public policy issues for workers aged over 55.

Our position

IOSH believes that good working conditions throughout working lives benefit workers, businesses and society. Working lives are getting longer and therefore supporting healthy extended careers and workability for all ages is vital.

Older workers are a valuable resource and make a positive contribution to organisations. Age diversity at work brings benefits to individuals, workplaces and wider society, such as a broader range of skills and experience; opportunities for skill-transfer and mentoring; reduced staff turnover; and improved staff morale, as described in the UK Government guide on employing older workers.

An ageing workforce raises employment challenges and opportunities. We know good work is beneficial for physical and mental health and that effective OSH management can help ensure all workers can fulfil their potential. IOSH calls on employers to deliver proactive age management, as outlined in the employer toolkit, including better-designed work and workplace adjustment; training, retraining and redeployment; flexible working; and phased retirement.

OSH professionals can support the management of an older workforce through diversity-sensitive risk assessment and also help dispel myths and unhelpful stereotypes.