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OHS issues facing an ageing population

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As Australia faces a growing number of older people working and remaining in the workforce, employers must address the OHS problems this trend presents, according to a workplace safety expert.  

Product Development Manager, CGU Safety and Risk Services, Angela Micic spoke at the 2006 Sydney Safety Show, presented by Australian Exhibitions and Conferences.

There has been much publicity on the ageing workforce and the effects it may place on the Australian population as a whole. Issues have ranged from the burden on our health system to the taxation burden on the working population. There have also been commentaries on the ageing workforce and the consequences this will have on the Australian industry as a whole. 

The ageing issue is now becoming a concern for many employers as people remain in the workforce for longer. The statistics tell us that the 20 to 44 year old age groups had a decline in the workforce participation since 1994. In a ten year prediction, the Australian Bureau of Statistics indicate that from 1994-2014, the 55-59 age group will have the highest increase in workforce participation. 

Australians within the workforce are growing older. The greying of Australia will continue to create further problems, from miniscule retirement savings, strained health care and aged care systems, skills shortages and occupational injuries within the workplace.

To effectively manage the increasingly ageing workforce now and in the future employers are required to implement risk management strategies. A legislative obligation requires that employers take all reasonable steps to protect the health and safety of their employees.  

CGU Workers Compensation national claims data shows an interesting tale with the older workforce actually not having the injuries once predicted. Employers need to take stock of their workforce and plan for risk reduction across all age groups if they want the success in managing workers compensation claims now and in the future. 

The Australian workforce increases by around 170,000 a year. Fast forward to 2020 and the forecast is 125,000 – for the entire decade. The ABS statistics for March 2004 show a participation rate of 63.5 per cent for 55 to 59 year olds, 40.5 per cent for those aged 60-64 and 14.7 per cent for 65 to 69 year olds. Just five years ago, the rates were 58.2 per cent, 31.7 per cent and 11.7 per cent respectively. Small business operators are getting older too. The ABS shows the number of business operators in the 50-plus age group has increased at an average annual rate of 3.7 per cent.  

A number of prevention strategies are available to employees to minimise risk associated with the ageing workforce in Australia. Risk management strategies will vary depending on jurisdictional occupational health and safety and workers compensation requirements in conjunction with workplace and workplace requirements. Employers need to ensure that work organisation and job design is suitable for all workers, with attention to older workers. The implementation of some of the preventative strategies may lead to improvements in OHS, reduction in injuries and claims and ultimately an increase in productivity and retention.

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