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The Safety Conference on the future of the workplace

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Gym memberships, programs to help smokers quit and annual flu vaccinations are just a few of the job perks Australian employers might need to offer as workers get older, according to an insurance insider.

Ahead of her October address to The Safety Conference in Sydney, CGU Safety and Risk Services product manager Angela Micic said employers would need to adapt the workplace to keep greying employees as productive as possible due to growing skills shortages.

Australia's demographics make grim reading for employers, with falling numbers of young people entering the workforce since 1994 and increasingly large numbers of workers reaching retirement age. The Australian Bureau of Statistics predicts that from 1994-2014, the 55-59 age group will have the highest increase in work force participation. Small-business operators are getting older too. Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show the number of business operators in the 50-plus group has increased at an average annual rate of 3.7 per cent.

Ms Micic said that although research showed older workers were no more likely to be injured on the job than their younger colleagues, the grey army would demand a fresh look at occupational health and safety (OHS) risk management approaches.

"There are three potential reasons for the research findings," she said.

"Firstly, it may be that older workers are more likely to be aware of safety in the workplace and, therefore, less likely to have an accident.

"Secondly, older workers tend to develop their own coping strategies (such as pacing, anticipation, planning and organisation) as they age, and these strategies may help them to reduce their risk.

“Finally, selection factors may be important. That is, older employees may seek to move out of occupations or industries where risk of injury or illness would otherwise tend to increase with age and into other forms of employment, phased retirement or early retirement."

A study of workers compensation claims by age and cost, however, found that injuries sustained by older were generally more serious.

"When analysing the costs, average claims costs remain steady until we reach the 66 to 70-plus age group," Ms Micic said.

"Here, the average is seven to 10 times that of the age groups before. This supports the 'age-old' theory that ageing workers may have fewer injuries but cost the employer more due to severity."

Ms Micic said employers needed to ensure that work organisation and job design was suitable for all workers, particularly older workers.

"The implementation of some of the suggested preventative strategies may lead to improvements in occupational health and safety, reduction in injuries and claims and ultimately an increase in productivity and retention," she said.

"These include different risk ratings for different age groups, better rehabilitation management and health and well-being programs. Better task design will take the older worker's posture, vision, hearing and strength into account, while shifts, the work environment and training can all be tailored to suit."

Ms Micic will detail the steps employers can take to protect ageing workforces at The Safety Conference presented by Australian Exhibitions & Conferences Pty Ltd during her address on October 19. The Safety Conference and The Safety Show will run from Tuesday 17 to Thursday 19 October at Southee Complex and The Dome, Hall 2 respectively at the Sydney Showground, Sydney Olympic Park.

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