Health and safety for older workers
Today’s workforce is likely to contain a higher proportion of older workers because of factors such as increased life expectancy, removal of the default retirement age and raising of the State Pension Age, which means that many people will need, and want to continue working.
Employers have the same responsibilities for the health and safety of older employees as they have for all their employees.
These pages will help employers take older workers into account when considering how to meet their responsibilities.
Dispelling the myths
Health and safety should not be used as an excuse to avoid employing older people. A separate risk assessment is not required specifically for older workers.
Research that has been carried out on age and employment is listed in the resources and useful links section of this guidance and includes the following findings:
- That instead of being unfit to work due to ageing and ill health, 62 per cent of over 50s describe themselves as feeling as fit as ever, with structural and (other people’s) attitudinal barriers thwarting their ability to stay involved.
- Some employers can have stereotyped views of the abilities and attitudes of older workers.
- That key elements of cognitive performance important for workplace health and safety, such as intelligence, knowledge, and use of language, do not generally show any marked decrease until after the age of 70.
- Where decline in cognitive abilities such as working memory and reaction time does occur, there is evidence that safe performance of tasks is unlikely to be affected, as older individuals can generally compensate for them with experience, better judgement and job knowledge.
- Strong evidence that, although speed of learning tends to slow with age, older workers can generally achieve a good standard in learning and performing new skills, given additional time and practice.
- Little conclusive evidence that older workers have an increased risk of occupational accidents than younger workers. However, while older workers are generally less likely than younger workers to have occupational accidents, accidents involving them are likely to result in more serious injuries, permanent disabilities or death, than for younger workers. Older workers may experience more slips, trips and falls than younger workers, and recovery following an injury may take longer.
Guidance for employers
Older workers bring a broad range of skills and experience to the workplace and often have better judgement and job knowledge, so looking after their health and safety makes good business sense.
- Review your risk assessment if anything significant changes, not just when an employee reaches a certain age
- Not assume that certain jobs are physically too demanding for older workers, many jobs are supported by technology, which can absorb the physical strain.
- Think about the activities older workers do, as part of your overall risk assessment and consider whether any changes are needed. This might include:
- allowing older workers more time to absorb health and safety information or training, for example by introducing self-paced training.
- introducing opportunities for older workers to choose to move to other types of work.
- designing tasks that contain an element of manual handling in such a way that they eliminate or minimise the risk.
- Think about how your business operates and how older workers could play a part in helping to improve how you manage health and safety risks. This might include having older workers working alongside colleagues in a structured programme, to capture knowledge and learn from their experience.
- Avoid assumptions by consulting and involving older workers when considering relevant control measures to put in place. Extra thought may be needed for some hazards. Consultation with your employees helps you to manage health and safety in a practical way.
Guidance for older workers
As an employee, you have a duty to take care of your own health and safety, and that of others who may be affected by your actions.
You must cooperate with your employer and other employees to help everyone meet their legal requirements.
If you have specific queries or concerns about your health and safety or if you are experiencing difficulty in carrying out your work, you should raise this with your employer.
Under health and safety law, employers must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable This means balancing the level of risk against the measures needed to control the real risk in terms of money, time or trouble. However, you do not need to take action if it would be grossly disproportionate to the level of risk. , the health and safety of all their employees, irrespective of age.
Employers must also provide adequate information, instruction, training and supervision to enable their employees to carry out their work safely.
Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (MHSWR)
Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, employers have a duty to make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the workplace risks to the health and safety of his employees. This includes identifying groups of workers who might be particularly at risk, which could include older workers.
Discrimination in respect of age is different from all other forms of direct discrimination in that it can be justifiable if it is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate end, such as considering changes to work that may be needed to ensure older workers can remain in the workforce.
Resources and useful links
- Consulting employees on health and safety: A brief guide to the law (INDG232)
- Manual handling at work: a brief guide (INDG143)
- Government’s Fuller Working Lives: A Framework for Action - provides a structure within which key players can bring about the changes needed to ensure adequate income in retirement for individuals, better wellbeing in later life, a more productive labour market, and increased economic activity.
- DWP's Age Positive initiative brings together research and information from employers on effectively managing an aging workforce of all generations.
- Age Action Alliance
- TAEN - The Age and Employment Network, works to promote an effective labour market that serves the needs of people in mid and later life, employers and the economy.
- A 2011 Health and Safety Laboratory report looked at research that had been carried out on age and employment
- The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)
- ACAS guidance: Age and the workplace