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Healthy Aging at Work Jun 4th, 2014
graphicAustralia’s population will both grow strongly and become older in the medium term. This population growth and ageing will affect labour supply, economic output, infrastructure requirements and governments’ budgets, and has lead to the suggested increase in the retirement age from 65-70 for those people born after 1965. Such changes are likely to have down stream impacts on employers due to a gradual increase in the average age of your workforce.

Safety and Health Outcomes Associated with Aging and Work

Aging affects a variety of health conditions and outcomes, including both chronic health conditions and likelihood of on-the-job injury. However, the exact nature of these relationships has only recently been better understood, and it is quickly becoming clear that appropriate programs and support in the workplace, community, or at home can help workers live longer, more productive lives.

Chronic Disease and Aging

Arthritis and hypertension are the two most common health conditions affecting older workers, impacting 47% and 44%, respectively, of workers over the age of 55. An even greater proportion of workers (more than 75%) are estimated to have at least one chronic health condition that requires management. Diabetes is perhaps the most costly of these; one study found that 1/3 of all Medicare spending goes towards management of diabetes.

The frequency of these conditions and others in older adults has important implications for workers can physically perform their duties, but also when. Higher morbidity means more absenteeism when an employee feels sick and more presenteeism when an employee is ill but shows up to work regardless. However, individual health risk factors are a stronger influence on future healthcare associated costs than advancing age alone. In comparing young workers with “high risk” of chronic disease (5 or more risk factors) to older workers with few or no risk factors, the younger workers had significantly higher medical costs associated despite the disparity in the age groups: 19-34 year olds, versus older workers aged 65-74.

Safety and Aging

As for safety on the job, workers who are older actually tend to experience fewer workplace injuries than their younger colleagues. This may be because of experience gathered from years in the workplace, or because of factors such as increased caution and awareness of relative physical limitations. The caution is well-founded. When accidents involving older workers do occur, the workers often require more time to heal, underscoring the need for a well-planned return to work program. Some evidence suggests incidents affecting older workers are more likely to be fatal, underscoring the need for employers to be mindful of how best to adapt the conditions of work to protect workers as well as explore opportunities for preventative programs that can maintain or build the health of employees through their working life.

Benefits of an Age-Friendly Workforce

Employers increasingly see the value that older workers bring to the job. Older workers have greater institutional knowledge and usually more experience. They often possess more productive work habits than their younger counterparts. They report lower levels of stress on the job, and in general, they get along better with their coworkers. Finally, they tend to be more cautious on the job and more likely to follow safety rules and regulations.

Workplaces, often out of necessity, have adapted to older workers.  Discrimination based on age or disability is inappropriate, and current government policy is rewarding and supporting the retention and employment of qualified workers despite limitations that may come from age or disability. However, some employers are more proactive than others, realizing that a well-designed, employee-centered approach to the physical nature and organization of work benefits all workers regardless of their age.

Workplace design, the flexibility of the work schedule and certain ergonomic interventions increasingly focus on the needs of older employees. Many workplace accommodations are easy to make and are inexpensive. Modern orthotics, appropriate flooring and seating, optimal lighting, and new information technology hardware and software can smooth the way to continued work for older individuals. New emphasis on job sharing, flexible work schedules, and work from home can support added years in the job market for many. Although work may not be beneficial for all older persons, for many it is an important avenue to economic security, enhanced social interaction, and improved quality of life.


 

 

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