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The challenges of an ageing workforce

31 October 2012

With having children no longer the automatic choice for many people, birth rates across Europe have been low for the last few decades. This poses manufacturers the combined challenge of a skills gap, due to the low numbers entering work, and an ageing workforce.

Additionally, recent legislation has meant ensuring workplaces are age friendly is a legal responsibility and not just a practical consideration.

An ageing workforce

The challenge of adjusting to an ageing workforce now faces industries throughout Europe. Between now and 2050 it’s predicted that the proportion of people aged 65+ will rise from 24.3% to 45% in the UK, and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) estimates that 12 million workers will be over 65 by 2011. 

A falling birth rate, increasing life expectancy and low pension pots means all industries must start assessing how the workplace can be made safer for ageing limbs and weaker eyes.

The Health and Safety commission estimates that 40 million working days are already lost due to ill-health or work related injuries, costing British companies £7.8 billion a year.  These figures are only expected to rise unless more is done to reduce the risks of injury to our increasingly elder workforce.  

Manufacturers in particular are prone to the impact of the changes in the population’s age. One in five already employs someone over 65, whilst there are currently 598,000 over 55s employed on production lines.

Government legislation

In recent years the government has stepped up its efforts to encourage people to delay retirement for as long as possible. Keeping people in work longer reduces the skills gap, means people are less reliant on pensions to support themselves and enables perfectly able workers to continue contributing to a business’ success.

In 2006 the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations made it illegal to discriminate someone at work due to their age.  This legislation was designed to ensure people weren’t forced into early retirement and could continue working for as long as they’re capable.

The legislation means employers have a legal responsibility to ensure workplaces are age friendly, and workers can continue contributing well into their 60s.

Creating an age-friendly workplace 

The biggest threat to the health of manufacturing workers is repetitive strain injury (RSI). Performing uncomfortable twists, reaches and having a poor posture at work is estimated to already affect 500,000 people, with 81,000 new cases reported just last year.

So, to reduce the risk of RSI workplaces need to harness ergonomics so that tasks can be performed comfortably and with the minimum strain. This means using ergonomic furniture, such as workbenches, chairs and trolleys, which can be height adjusted to suit individual workers and the task being performed.

Making tasks more ergonomic makes them more comfortable for an ageing workforce, encourages them to delay retirement and reduces the risk of compensation claims arising from strain related injuries.

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