2012 is the European Year for Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations, and the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) has been taking an active part in it, making information available on how to help employees stay fit for work for longer.
There are important demographic changes happening in the European Union, with higher life expectancy and lower birth rates meaning that over the next few decades we are likely to see a big increase in the proportion of older workers. At the moment, less than half of all 55-to-64-year-olds in the EU are working, with most older workers leaving the job market before the age at which they qualify for a state pension.
As part of its involvement in the European Year for Active Ageing, EU-OSHA offers a wide range of information, including a new Ageing Workers web feature. EU-OSHA has been providing practical examples of measures to improve working conditions for older people (including adapting work tasks and carrying out age-sensitive risk assessments), and to help older people maintain their ‘work ability’ over time.
And EU-OSHA has been making the point that, if we want people to be able to stay in their jobs for longer, then we need to ensure that occupational safety and health is taken seriously throughout their working lives.
As Agency Director Christa Sedlatschek puts it, ‘a good working life is an important part of active ageing. Young workers are the older workers of tomorrow, and good occupational safety and health has a crucial role to play, in contributing to better and longer working lives.’
In most cases, people retire early because of health problems (and especially, because of work-related health problems). But if we are to provide financial support for European citizens as they live longer, we need older workers to stay longer in the workplace.
Helping people work for longer involves action being taken, both by individual employers and by policymakers, to adapt workplace tasks to an ageing workforce, and to counter some of the discrimination that can exist towards older workers.
According to research commissioned by EU-OSHA, most people in Europe agree: the second European Opinion Poll on Occupational Safety and Health, shows that 87% of Europeans think that good occupational health and safety is important if people are to work for longer before they retire (56% say it is ‘very important’).
Research also shows, though, that many Europeans think that conditions in their workplaces might not allow them to continue working to an older age: more than half say that their workplaces are not adapted to the needs of older people.
In the coming months, EU-OSHA, at the request of the European Parliament and Commission, will be launching a pilot project, investigating ways of improving the health and safety of older people at work.