The Australian workforce is changing, albeit slowly. Life expectancies are longer than ever so people are choosing to stay in the workforce longer. Changes to the official age of retirement have also impacted on decisions to continue working.
But what do older workers bring to the workplace and are there any WHS issues that need to be addressed?
Without doubt older workers offer considerable benefits in the workplace. They contribute an enormous amount like dedication, maturity, punctuality and honesty, are organised and detail-oriented, focused, attentive and lets not forget the main one; they have years and years of experience. We may live in a youth driven culture but experience carries a lot of weight to it.
But in saying that, there are a few issues that WHS professionals need to address when employing an older person. Older employees can be more susceptible to certain kinds of injuries and illnesses, bearing in mind that health and fitness affects people at different ages and at different times, so its more about personal evaluation rather than an across the board approach.
According to guidelines published by the West Australian government on older workers there are some practical WHS considerations required for ageing employees.
Workers’ compensation statistics indicate that the most common causes of injury among older workers include:
- Fractures, crushing injuries, contusions and disorders of the spinal vertebrae and other muscles, tendons or soft tissue;
- Sprains and strains, indicating muscular stress is a common problem;
- Falls, slips and trips.
Employers, they say still need to provide a sufficient duty of care for older workers, which may involve adapting work practices to suit the needs of an ageing workforce. Employers still need to provide a sufficient duty of care for older workers, which may involve adapting work practices to suit the needs of an ageing workforce including:
- Identifying or re-evaluating workplace hazards or risks from the perspective of older employees at your organisation;
- Surveying employees to discover problems they’ve identified, helping you develop an awareness of age-related health and safety factors;
- Using survey results for finding and control hazards for ageing employees, and for developing a range of WHS strategies;
- Conducting pre-placement discussions with employees to evaluate their needs and abilities;
- Continuously communicating and consulting with workers about their needs and responsibilities;
- Liaising with other health and safety officers to find the best systems and maintain consistent approaches and standards;
- Continuously monitoring and reviewing workplace practices
- Seeking medical advice where you don’t have the knowledge to assess more complicated health issues
The capabilities of each individual should be as closely aligned to the demands of the job wherever possible says the WA Government.
Arrange work tasks after considering all hazard factors, ensuring that individuals still have sufficient control over their work so they can make decisions about how to tackle and complete tasks. Individuals should also be given flexibility, where possible, to vary the timing of there own rest breaks to meet their own needs. Rest breaks can help compensate for differences in physical performance capacity and work should be scheduled to reduce risk factors.
For example older workers can experience greater difficulties in coping with tiring shift work. Redesigning shifts can reduce employee fatigue levels and minimise associated risks and problems.
They go on to say that workloads and work intensity should be constantly monitored. Work for example that involves a high work rate for extended periods is often stressful and can lead to musculoskeletal disorders. Workloads should be set with an understanding of how long it takes to achieve the desired quality, not just the quantity of work output needed.
People of all ages need time to adapt to changing requirements. When making changes to tasks says the WA government, equipment or other work factors allow workers time to change and adapt. Strength and fitness takes time to develop no matter what age, so performance demands should be set lower while workers are learning and adapting to new work requirements.
Older employees can still safely perform manual handling tasks, however the government suggests changes may need to be made to achieve a safe system of work. The weight and size of objects should be reduced where possible, distance between the object and the person lifting should be reduced and mechanical lifting equipment should be used where practical.
Workplaces can be rethought and redesigned. Changes can include things like increasing light levels, reducing glare, reducing noise levels, eliminating hazards that cause slips, trips and falls, reducing exposure to extreme temperatures by decreasing exposure or providing PPE, increasing visibility of task related objects or information.
The West Australian government says postural demands can be reduced by changes to equipment and procedures. Employers can also choose to support flexible employment conditions such as job sharing and part-time work so older workers reduce their risk of injury. Older workers have a great deal to offer their employer and with these suggestions the needs of the older workforce can meet and all that knowledge and experience can bring amazing benefits to any business.
Don’t leave your employees’ safety and business success to chance. Invest in the proper work health and safety training to ensure that your employees are best equipped to create a safe and productive workplace.
Alertforce have been providing high quality nationally recognised training for many years. Our short courses educate and up-skill workers and keeps your workplace safe from injury. Enquire today.