Ageing workforce

Ageing workforce

Guest Post By the late George Robotham

Welder in his SixtiesI am 58 and have worked in OHS for 38 years. I have had a variety of OHS roles and have a rich portfolio of OHS experience to fall back on. I am no expert and still have a lot to learn in the field, fortunately I am a lifelong learner and I will continue to learn. My opinion is that mentally I am at my peak in relation to OHS.

Unfortunately the body has turned to crap. Many years of putting my head into the front row of rugby union scrums has not done my neck much good and my knees are not what they used to be.

Over the next four decades in Australia, the number of people aged over 65 will almost double. Within just seven years, about 85 percent of labour market growth will come from people over the age of 45.Our ageing population is a reality. Economic wellbeing, for both governments and individual businesses, depends on keeping older workers employed. Companies that fail to address the ageing workforce issue risk future staff and skill shortages, and any competitive edge they now enjoy (Qld. government, Dept. Of Justice)


Studies have produced overwhelmingly positive feedback of mature age employees in the workforce. Mature age employees are capable of adapting to change and learning new skills. They bring a calming influence, can utilise their experience and knowledge and can mentor younger employees.

The needs of older workers are no different to the needs of young workers – they need a safe work environment and safe systems of work.  They need an appropriate level of training to be able to perform their work safely and be made aware of the risks associated with the work.  They also need policies that reflect organisational commitment to health and safety and procedures. Interestingly the definition of an older worker seems to be over 45.

There are four key elements in managing an ageing workforce-

  1. Proactively addressing age discrimination and age stereotyping in recruitment and selection, training and employer and employee attitudes to workforce participation.
  2. Using an integrated approach to recruitment, workforce planning, career and succession planning, job design, training and development and knowledge management to better develop and transfer critical organisational skills and knowledge.
  3. Creating a work environment where older employees are able to make informed choices about their workforce participation and are encouraged to use flexible work practices to develop individual approaches to continued participation and or flexible retirement from the workforce.
  4. Using skill and career development activities, good job design, raised awareness about health and well being, work and life balance and safety factors to encourage and support older workers to retain their employability.

The above is adapted from A Guide For The Qld. Public Service-Managing An Ageing Workforce, Qld. Government Public Service Commission which I thought was a good reference

Knowing that there is no one-size-fits-all solution, the following are suggestions from ASSE members that can increase workplace safety for an aging workforce:

  • Improve illumination, add colour contrast
  • Eliminate heavy lifts, elevated work from ladders and long reaches
  • Design work floors and platforms with smooth and solid decking while still allowing some cushioning
  • Reduce static standing time
  • Remove clutter from control panels and computer screens and use large video displays
  • Reduce noise levels
  • Install chain actuators for valve hand wheels, damper levers or other similar control devices – this brings the control manipulation to ground level – helps reduce falls
  • Install skid resistant material for flooring and especially for stair treads – helps reduce falls
  • Install shallow-angle stairways in place of ladders when space permits and where any daily elevated access is needed to complete a task – helps reduce falls
  • Utilize hands free volume adjustable telephone equipment
  • Increase task rotation which will reduce the strain of repetitive motion
  • Lower sound system pitches, such as on alarm systems, as they tend to be easier to hear
  • Lengthen time requirements between steps in a task
  • Increase the time allowed for making decisions
  • Consider necessary reaction time when assigning older workers to tasks
  • Provide opportunities for practice and time to develop task familiarity

Implementing these changes would not only help older workers, but would benefit all workers.
(American Society of Safety Engineers, discussion forum )

A Google search for managing safety of an ageing workforce will reveal a large amount of relevant information.

Several studies have indicated that older workers do not have more workplace injuries than younger workers, this is publically demonstrated by lower motor vehicle insurance premiums for older people.


George Robotham

George Robotham

George was a Legend in the Safety World who passed away in Sept 2013 but left us with a great legacy
George Robotham
I have worked in OHS for most of my working life, many years in the mining industry including over 10 years in a corporate OHS role with BHP. Since leaving the mining industry I have worked in a variety of safety roles with a variety of employers, large & small, in a variety of industries. I was associated with my first workplace fatality at age 21, the girl involved was young, intelligent, vivacious and friendly. Such a waste! I was the first on the scene and tried to comfort her and tend to her injuries. She said to me “George, please do not let me die” We put her on the aerial ambulance to Rockhampton base hospital where she died the next day. I do not mind telling you that knocked me around for awhile. Since then I have helped my employers cope with the aftermath of 12 fatalities and 2 other life-altering events. The section "Why do Occupational Health & Safety" provides further detail but in summary, poor safety is simply very expensive and also has a massive humanitarian cost. My qualifications include a certificate I.V. in Workplace Training and Assessment, a Diploma in Frontline Management, a Diploma in Training & Assessment Systems, a Bachelor of Education (Adult & Workplace Education) , a Grad. Cert. in Management of Organisational Change and a Graduate Diploma in Occupational Hazard Management. I am currently studying towards a Masters in Business Leadership. Up until recently I had been a Chartered Fellow of the Safety Institute of Australia for 10 years and a member for about 30 years. My interest is in non-traditional methods of driving organisational change in OHS and I have what I believe is a healthy dis-respect for many common approaches to OHS Management and OHS Training. I hold what I believe is a well-founded perception that many of the things safety people and management do in safety are “displacement activities” (Displacement activities are things we do, things we put a lot of energy into, but which when we examine them closely there is no valid reason for doing them). My managerial and leadership roles in OHS have exposed me to a range of management techniques that are relevant to Business Improvement. In particular I am a strong supporter of continuous improvement and quality management approaches to business. I believe leadership is the often forgotten key to excellence in most aspects of life. I hold the Australian Defence Medal and am a J.P.(Qualified). I have many fond memories of my time playing Rugby Union when I was a young bloke.

Do you have any thoughts? Please share them below