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Title: Protecting and promoting the health and safety of older workers : opportunities and challenges
Author: Drake, Carolyn M.
ISNI:       0000 0004 6349 9566
Awarding Body: Loughborough University
Current Institution: Loughborough University
Date of Award: 2017
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As the 21st century proceeds, individuals are increasingly working into later years to support themselves and maintain their quality of life. This changing pattern of employment has implications for workers, employers and society alike. Although older workers have much to contribute, individuals may experience health issues or physical, sensory or psychological changes related to ageing. Health and safety statistics indicate that older workers are a vulnerable group. Employers then, have a responsibility to examine the working environment and protect those with reduced capabilities. For society to function, older workers need to be able to remain in work, otherwise this will impact on both the economy and older individuals quality of life. This thesis aimed to understand the opportunities and challenges employers encounter when trying to protect and promote the health and safety of older workers. The research used qualitative approaches, combining interviews and focus groups to provide rich data on the circumstances of older workers. Triangulation was used, collecting data over different time periods, from different sources, to help balance out any weaknesses across the studies. Data were analysed using thematic analysis. A review of the literature found that there is no consistent definition of ageing or older worker. Many researchers have used chronological age and, therefore, this thesis used 50 as a threshold. The literature highlights that older workers have a wealth of knowledge and skills to bring to the workplace. Negative perceptions, however, regarding natural ageing and adaptability exist. Other authors have argued that organisations need to provide a safe environment for older workers and implement measures to mitigate changes in abilities, whilst recognising that there is no one size fits all strategy. First, an initial scoping study was undertaken with employers, which sought to understand their perceptions concerning the ageing workforce. The study also collected information on the health and safety age management strategies that have been implemented within the organisations. Interviews with employers (senior managers who influence health and safety management strategies) (n=41) revealed that, in line with literature, there is recognition that older workers bring benefits to the workplace. However, some comments demonstrated inaccurate stereotyping. The interviews found that these employers were uncertain how to proceed with implementing actions to protect the health and safety of their older workers. Two subsequent studies, consisting of focus groups (n=10) and interviews (n=50) were then conducted, which explored older workers experiences of working into later life and their views on the issues identified by the employer interview study. The older worker interviews also examined their perceptions regarding their health and capabilities, appropriate health and safety measures in response to this and interviewees anticipated future in the workforce. Older workers explained that they do not feel supported or engaged. They are fearful of reporting capability changes that may affect their ability to perform work tasks, as they believe this may have negative consequences for their future employment. During discussions, they suggested various measures that may help them remain in the workforce for longer. The information gathered during the literature review and the findings from the first three studies, were then used to develop examples of good practice health and safety measures that organisations could implement to help protect and promote the health and safety of older workers. A final interview study with key employer representatives (n=16) was conducted, to understand whether the health and safety good practice measures might be considered beneficial and achievable. This study found that although organisations recognised the benefits of health and safety measures tailored for older workers, the feasibility of some of the suggestions was in doubt. Budgetary constraints, insufficient time and lack of necessary knowledge were seen as particular obstacles to implementation. This thesis has identified that although research evidence exists in relation to measures to support the health and safety of older workers, e.g. the benefits of health promotion, improved work scheduling, workplace assessments etc, this is rarely translated into practice. Within organisations, there is uncertainty about age management for older workers and limited understanding of the divergent needs as workers capabilities change. The default position then becomes to cater for a typical worker. A coordinated multi-disciplinary approach between health and safety, occupational health, human resources and operational management is required. This thesis argues for an integrated age management strategy, with an emphasis on proactive prevention, in the interests of protecting and promoting the health and safety of older workers.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Ageing worker ; Older worker ; Occupational health and safety ; Employer support ; Age-related capabilities