Do Older Workers Need To Be Treated Differently For Health & Safety Purposes?

Posted on written by Sam Barton

We’re living longer.

In 2014 the average age of the UK population exceeded 40 for the first time. Not only is our life expectancy increasing but with rises in the qualifying age for the state pension and the removal of the mandatory retirement age in 2011, we are working longer too.

This raises some interesting questions from a health and safety perspective. Do employers need to take extra measures with an ageing and older workforce? Is there any evidence to suggest that older workers are more at risk of being involved in accidents at work?

Let’s find out.

What Does The Law Say?

Regardless of how old a worker is, employers have a duty to ensure that health and safety of all employees is catered for.

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 state that employer’s need to carry out sufficient risk assessments in the workplace, in particular, to identify if any specific groups of people are more at risk. This doesn’t necessarily point to older workers however they are one of the groups that are often cited as needing extra precautions.

Is this accurate, though?

Working Safely Doesn’t Decrease With Age

The evidence suggests that older workers don’t become health and safety hazards due to decreased reaction times or cognitive impairment.

We looked at the perception of older workers previously. The UK workforce is generally more positive about carrying out their job as they get older. Only 17% of employee’s surveyed felt that they wouldn’t be able to carry out their job at 60 compared to a 22% average in the rest of Europe.

In fact, experience, knowledge and better judgement are all traits found in many older workers and actually contribute to a healthier working environment even if other cognitive abilities decline. So, while some skills do decrease as we get older, continuing to work past retirement age doesn’t necessarily mean that there is a more substantial risk of an accident occurring. 

Guidance For Managing Older Employee’s

That being said, some things should be taken into consideration by employers when it comes to older workers. Even though getting older doesn’t automatically mean that the likelihood of an accident occurring increases but the impact of workplace accidents can have a much bigger effect.

Serious injuries, extended time off work or even fatalities are all things that can potentially be more likely to happen to older employees in the workplace.

Employers should strive to carry out additional risk assessments for older employee’s not necessarily in relation to their decreased ability to carry out certain tasks but rather because injuries and accidents when undertaking some duties can have a bigger impact on older workers.

Even simple measures such as allowing older employee’s more time to carry out their work, allowing them to move to other less demanding jobs if needed and adapting their current role can all help to create a healthier and safer environment at work.

Do Older Workers Need To Be Treated Differently For Health & Safety Purposes?

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