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Is Your Company Fit for an Ageing Workforce?

By 2030, workers aged 55 to 64 are expected to make up 30 % or more of the workforce in many European countries. The retirement age is increasing in many member states and many workers are likely to face longer working lives. Efforts must therefore be made to ensure safe and healthy conditions throughout working life. The Europe 2020 strategy identifies demographic change as one of the major challenges that Europe faces. To address this, the European Union (EU) Strategic Framework on Health and Safety at Work 2014 to 2020 outlines measures to promote good practice and improve occupational safety and health (OSH) conditions for all workers.

Author: Peter Schrandt, Berufsgenossenschaft Rohstoffe und chemische Industrie (BG RCI), Langenhagen

Learning of each other in Europe

“Healthy Workplaces for All Ages” is a Europe-wide campaign open to individuals and organizations at the local, national and European levels managed by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA). Throughout 2016 and 2017, EU-OSHA is campaigning to raise awareness of the need to encourage safe and sustainable working from the beginning of the working lives of employees. The campaign raises awareness of good practice in occupational safety and health (OSH) management in terms of ageing employees and tailoring work to the needs of individuals to ensure their continued participation in the labor market.

The Healthy Workplaces Campaign 2016 to 17 has the following key objectives:

  • to promote sustainable work and healthy ageing from the start of the working life;
  • to prevent health problems throughout the working life;
  • to provide ways for employers and workers to manage occupational safety and health in the context of an ageing workforce; and
  • to encourage the exchange of information and good practice.

Awarded: This is how good businesses do it

In the run-up to the World Day for Safety and Health at Work on 28th April 2017, the Healthy Workplaces Good Practice Awards ceremony was held in Valletta/Malta. Organized by EU-OSHA, the awards showcased successful interventions by European organizations to make their workplaces safer and healthier for workers of all ages – and therefore more productive.

The Maltese Presidency of the Council of the EU was hosting the Healthy Workplaces Good Practice Awards ceremony on 26th April 2017 as part of its tripartite conference OSH “Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups”. The competition, which is a key element of the 2016 to 17 “Healthy Workplaces for All Ages” campaign, aimed to highlight innovative examples of organizations taking action to promote sustainable working lives.

Speaking ahead of the conference, the Maltese Minister for Social Dialogue, Consumer Affairs and Civil Liberties, the Helena Dalli, said: “A key priority for the Maltese Presidency is putting the needs of citizens at the center of everything we do. Many European workers aged over 50 believe that their work has a negative effect on their health. We hope that the awards will encourage enterprises throughout the EU and in Malta to take steps to make their workplaces safer, healthier and fairer for their employees.”

Commenting on the importance of safe and healthy working conditions throughout working life, Christa Sedlatschek, Director of EU-OSHA, said: “The European workforce is ageing, and many countries are raising retirement ages. By implementing good practices in age management, employers can protect their workers’ health and safeguard the future of their businesses. With this competition we engage relevant stakeholders, provide examples of successful interventions and create a prevention culture across Europe.”

Entries to the competition came from all over Europe, from a wide range of sectors and from organizations of varying sizes (Figure 1). The awarded and commended examples were demonstrably successful, sustainable and transferable to other workplaces.

Fig. 1. Companies from 23 countries came up with concepts to design workplaces suitable for all ages. The representatives of the winners were honored in Malta. // Bild 1. Unternehmen aus 23 Ländern haben Konzepte entwickelt, um Arbeitsplätze aus allen Altersgruppen gesundheitsfördernd zu gestalten. Die Repräsentanten der Gewinner wurden in Malta geehrt. Photo/Foto: EU-OSHA

The winning organizations include

  • an Austrian lighting manufacturer that established a new department dedicated to ensuring that employees were willing and able to remain in the workforce for longer;
  • a German tyre manufacturer that created a company-wide database of positions and employee requirements to improve reallocation and reintegration of employees with specific needs;
  • a family-owned Finnish construction company taking action to reduce the number of serious occupational accidents to zero by 2020; and
  • a car manufacturer in Spain that introduced measures to tailor work to individuals and assess risks on a person-by-person basis.

Solutions for the mining industry

Vassiliko Cement Works PLC, Nikosia/Cyprus, produces clinker and cement and operates several quarries. As is common in physically demanding industries, the ageing of the workforce at Vassiliko presents a significant challenge to the company.

Employees aged 50 to 64 constitute 34 % of Vassiliko’s workforce. Older workers in heavy industry are at risk of early retirement and disability if the work environment and work demands are not adapted to their changing capacities. The company carried out a risk assessment process specifically considering the risks faced by older employees. Vassiliko recognised that older workers are particularly vulnerable to the risks posed by shift work and heavy workloads. To reduce the risks, the company increased the number of shifts from four to five by employing 15 new workers, allowing employees longer rest periods between shifts. Ergonomic improvements to the work environment were made, including the installation of two new lifts to reduce physical strain and the risks of musculoskeletal disorders. The company also carried out a full renovation of its offices, applying ergonomic principles to improve the work environment (Figure 2).

Fig. 2. Cement producer Vassiliko from Cyprus wants to foster the ability to work of older employees and keep their skills and experience in the company. Physically strenuous work, shift systems and ergonomic workplace designs are in the focus. // Bild 2. Der Zementhersteller Vassiliko aus Zypern will die Beschäftigungsfähigkeit älterer Arbeitnehmer sichern und Kompetenz im Unternehmen halten. Physisch schwere Arbeiten, Schichtsysteme und ergonomische Arbeitsplätze stehen im Fokus. Photo/Foto: EU-OSHA

Vassiliko provides medical examinations for its personnel. In cooperation with occupational healthcare, electronic medical records were created for all personnel. Furthermore, Vassiliko ran a culture change programmer, creating teams made up of employees of varying ages and backgrounds and at different levels in the company. The aim was to promote team spirit and integration, as well as cooperation between older and younger employees.

As a result at Vassiliko employees´ contentment and productivity at work improved.

Rudnik Serbia is a privately owned mining company that specializes in the production and processing of lead, zinc and copper ores. Upon privatization in 2004, the company recognized that its safety and health management systems were inadequate, there was a lack of procedures for occupational safety and health, a lack of safety and health management, equipment was outdated and staff were insufficiently trained and lacked motivation, resulting in sickness, injuries and early retirement. The early retirement of highly skilled workers aged 45 to 50 was resulting in a further decrease in the level of skills and experience of the workforce. There were also concerns about the work ability of some older staff in their current roles. The company recognized the need to retain workers.

Rudnik completely overhauled safety and health practices in the mine. To tackle the loss of skills resulting from early retirement, Rudnik employed 30 experienced professional miners from a neighboring mine to train new employees and pass on their knowledge and experience of good safety and health practice in a mining setting. In addition, the company established an informal knowledge-sharing agreement with another mine operating in the region, widening the breadth of experience their employees could benefit from.

A modern occupational safety and health system that complied with national guidelines was introduced, along with the provision of appropriate personal protective equipment. Occupational safety and health measures were introduced for all, with procedures and permanent improvements, including continuous training and regular risk assessment. A strong link between the company and the competent state authorities was established, ensuring that Rudnik receives ongoing suggestions for improving its safety and health practices. A trade union and an occupational safety and health committee were also established to ensure that employees’ opinions on safety and health matters would be heard.

In addition to bringing conditions in the mine into line with best practice guidelines, Rudnik also wanted to invest in its employees to ensure their continued safety and health and, where possible, to reduce early retirement. Rudnik has implemented a voluntary insurance policy to cover occupational injuries and illnesses. The company created a health-monitoring program and performs regular medical screening for all workers. In addition, Rudnik has an agreement with a designated medical provider to manage occupational injuries and illnesses.

Fig. 3. Know-how transfer and participation support the systematic optimization of prevention at Rudnik in Serbia. // Bild 3. Wissenstransfer und Partizipation unterstützen die systematische Optimierung der Prävention bei Rudnik in Serbien. Photo/Foto: EU-OSHA

Finally, Rudnik also marks Serbian Miners’ Day and, with the participation of the local authorities and the media, uses it to raise awareness of the importance of occupational safety and health in the mining sector.

High idea potential available from 23 countries

For the Healthy Workplaces Good Practice Awards 2016/17, 42 entries were received from organizations of all sizes and from many sectors. Overall, 37 national entries from 23 countries and five entries from official campaign partners were received. Eight national entries and one official campaign partner were awarded and eight national entries and one official campaign partner were commended. Each of the examples is listed below, with a brief description of the awarded examples.

Awarded examples:

  • VitaS, Belgium: participatory measures to minimise physical and psychosocial risks in the social care sector.
  • Continental AG, Germany: a company-wide ergonomics and demographics programme in a major car manufacturer.
  • Heidelberger Druckmaschinen AG, Germany: promoting health, know-how and flexibility through participatory action.
  • PSA Group, Spain: tailoring jobs for employees in car manufacturing to increase the employability of all.
  • MAVIR ZRt, Hungary: improving the work ability of older workers in the energy sector.
  • Zumtobel Group AG, Austria: maintaining and improving work ability and retaining workers in manufacturing.
  • Rudnik, Serbia: management and miners working together to reduce early retirement.
  • Lujatalo Oy, Finland: helping to ensure that construction workers reach retirement in good health.
  • SAP SE, Germany, official campaign partner: “Run Your Health” – empowering employees of all ages to take action for their health.

Commended examples:

  • Service Facility for the Ministry of the Interior, the Czech Republic;
  • Region Midtjylland, Denmark;
  • Tarkett S.p.A., Italy;
  • Vassiliko Cement Works PLC, Cyprus;
  • Loders Croklaan, the Netherlands;
  • Police Directorate Murska Sobota, Slovenia;
  • Duslo, a.s., Slovakia;
  • the Federation of Finnish Technology Industries, Finland; and
  • Toyota Material Handling, official campaign partner.

Further information

All examples listed here are introduced in a booklet published by EU-OSHA. PDF download at https://osha.europa.eu/de/tools-and-publications/publications/healthy-workplaces-good-practice-awards-2016-2017-booklet/view

Author: Peter Schrandt, Berufsgenossenschaft Rohstoffe und chemische Industrie (BG RCI), Langenhagen