Employer’s obligations when working with ageing workforce

Australia’s ageing population is being encouraged to remain in the workforce for longer

Workcover Queensland has recognised the workplace health and safety issues arising as a consequence of the increased retirement age in Australia in more recent times.

The following article has been issued by WorkCover Queensland advising employers what they should be aware of when engaging the skills of more mature workers.

Supporting an Ageing Workforce: 30 May 2013

Australia’s ageing population is being encouraged to remain in the workforce for longer to ensure the supply of workers and prevent a shortfall in business productivity.

While there are many advantages for retaining older workers, there are significant impacts on business operations, training requirements, workplace health and safety procedures and injury management.

Older workers are often the most skilled and most productive employees

Kate Macartney, North Customer Services Manager, says that older workers are often the most skilled and most productive employees, but they are also the most vulnerable.

“Older employees may be less physically fit than younger workers, and may be more likely to be fatigued at work leading to greater risk of injury”.

“They tend to have a higher rate and cost of injury than younger workers, as well as more severe work-related injuries and require longer rehabilitation and greater lost work time,” said Ms Macartney.

Ageing workers also face specific occupational health and safety concerns

These can include decreased physical capacity, fatigue, increased rates of musculoskeletal disorders and greater incidence of disease.

In order to ensure the health and safety of older workers within the workplace, organisational practices need to be adjusted, new technologies adopted and assistance given to cope with work demands.

“Workplaces that do not normally employ older employees may be impacted the most at first, but once proper procedures and protocols are implemented, businesses will reap the benefits for years to come,” said Ms Macartney.

Strategies to help older workers maintain good health and productivity

With a rapidly ageing workforce, there is a need to identify, develop and implement strategies to help older workers maintain good health and productivity and manage with ever evolving technologies and procedures.

“Well organised, management supported, work site health interventions encouraging physical activity during work hours can help to decrease the incidence of age related injury and illness”.

  • Some of the top tips for working with an ageing workforce include:

  • Ensure that a person (regardless of age) is suited to the task and can carry it out safely

  • Adapt duties to suit older workers needs and abilities

  • Rotate physically demanding or repetitive tasks

  • Provide ergonomically designed workstations for all workers

  • Regularly assess stress levels of workers and implement stress management training if required

  • Train all workers in injury prevention strategies – note that training requirements for older workers may be different, and training may require repetition

  • Ensure that workplace lighting is adequate for the job at hand

  • If appropriate to your workplace, offer older workers flexible work arrangements

  • Involve workers and tell them what is being done to reduce risks

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