In Europe, our workforce is ageing. And, in many Member States, official retirement age is increasing. With workers facing longer working lives, they are also confronted with longer exposure to hazards. What’s more, the world of work is changing, with, for example, continuous technological developments and the rise of flexible working.

The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work is launching The Healthy Workplaces for All Ages campaign which aims to raise awareness among European workplaces, promoting sustainable work and healthy ageing throughout the working life.

Managing occupational safety and health (OSH) in an ageing workforce

Prevention for all throughout the working life is a key message of the campaign, with risk assessment the cornerstone of the preventive approach to occupational accidents and ill health. But all workers are different, and diversity-sensitive risk assessment is vital, tailoring work to individual needs and risk levels. Gender, physical condition, status and origins — as well as age — can all increase risks to workers, and workplace adaptations need to be implemented to suit specific needs as they arise, in a dynamic and continuous process throughout a person’s working life.

By 2030, workers aged over 55 are expected to make up 30% or more of the total workforce in many EU countries

Managing an ageing workforce requires a comprehensive, holistic approach, looking at the workplace as a whole and taking account of and dealing with all factors that could influence workplace safety and health. These include work–life balance, training and lifelong learning, career development, motivation and leadership.

Work demands and individual resources need to be balanced while also considering the context outside of the workplace. This balance — an individual’s work ability — needs good leadership, worker participation and cooperation between the two.

It is not only important for workers and employers to work together. Cooperation between human resources (HR) management and OSH management is also crucial. HR policies such as work–life balance, working time, lifelong learning and career development — all of which also affect work ability — need to support OSH management for all age groups. By working together, workers, workers’ representatives, employers and managers can support healthy and productive working at all ages.

With disability retirement an increasingly significant issue, it is more important than ever to help people with health problems remain in work. Occupational rehabilitation and return to work policies are indispensable to this goal, with successful schemes including the UK’s ‘fit note’ replacing the ‘sick note’, Denmark’s ‘Return to work’ intervention project and Austria’s ‘fit2work’ programme.

What’s more, workplace health promotion aims to improve the health and well-being of workers by considering the context outside the workplace and promoting healthy lifestyles. Factors such as diet and nutrition, alcohol consumption, quitting smoking and exercise are all covered. Another aspect of work ability, lifelong learning, encourages workers of all ages to take part in education and training, with the goal to retain the employability of workers by updating and developing their skills. But for workplace health promotion and lifelong learning to be effective, they must be used as only a part of an overall OSH management approach.

More about the campaign

The 2016–17 campaign ‘Healthy Workplaces for All Ages’

Its overall aim is to help workers, managers and employers recognise and manage the challenges of an ageing workforce, focusing not on one age group, but on workers of all ages. It also highlights the importance of using a life-course approach. Fostering healthy working practices in young workers and developing good working conditions promotes sustainable work throughout their working lives and ensures healthy ageing.

To find out more about the 2016–17 Healthy Workplaces for All Ages campaign, and to find out how you could get involved, visit www.healthy-workplaces.eu/.