Ageing together. Photo: istockphoto
The average population age worldwide is increasing as a result of rising life expectancy and falling birth rates. Naturally these changes also affect the age structure of the working population. In many countries the majority of workers are already over 45 years old. Keeping this population group, which is often placed at a disadvantage by the labour market, actively employed up until pensionable age, is fast becoming essential in economic and socio-political terms. Social security policies and active prevention can contribute to overcome these challenges.
It is estimated, for example, that the number of people in Asia over 65 years of age will more than triple in the next 50 years. In Sub-Saharan Africa the older population of 36.6 million (2005 figures) is supposed to increase to 141 million by 2050. With advancing age the need for medical care increases. Health expenditure in industrialised countries is four times higher for the over-65 year old group than for the rest of the population.
One of the central challenges is the recognition that, on the one hand, people will be working until they are increasingly older and, on the other hand, that advancing age brings with it increased risks at work.
In 15 European countries studies found that there was a clear relationship between employee age and the occurrence of occupational accidents. The studies showed that while older employees had fewer occupational accidents that required reporting to the authorities, when such accidents did occur they were more serious and led to longer periods of incapacity for work. Fatal accidents occur most often to employees between the ages of 55 and 64.
Extending the active working life is one response to increased life expectancy. On the one hand, older people should participate in society actively for as long as possible on medical and ethical and humanitarian grounds; on the other hand this would make an important contribution towards lightening the burden on and stabilising social security systems.
Keeping older people’s health, their ability to carry out paid work and their earnings at a high level in the long term can ensure that social security systems remain operational. In addition to the anticipated dramatic increase in older employees in future, it must also be borne in mind that younger employees may not necessarily be there to take their place. There is therefore a danger that there may be a lack of skilled workers in the coming years/decades.
Although this consideration may concern industrialised countries more, it is to be expected that the same demographic developments and problems will start to emerge in developing countries.
A broad-based prevention effort in all phases of working life increases the capability to work and employability of an ageing population thereby playing a key role in overcoming demographic change in the world of work. To achieve this all prevention actors need to spread and apply their knowledge about designing working life in a way that is relevant to age and an ageing population in the following areas:
Extracts from a report by the ISSA Special Commission on Prevention, first published in 2010.
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