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Older Worker Findings

22 January 2008 | Last updated: 26 January 2008 | Category: SPARC News

Findings from two SPARC projects on the Older Worker were launched at a workshop on Health, Workplace Design and the Older Worker hosted jointly with TAEN and Help the Aged. The two studies, Workplace Design for the Older Worker, led by Professor Peter Buckle of the University of Surrey, and Understanding the Older Worker in Construction, led by Professor Alistair Gibb of Loughborough University are the first of 34 SPARC funded studies for which findings will be reported during the coming year.

A report on Older Men, Work and Health by Dr Gillian Granville commissioned by TAEN and funded by Help the Aged was launched. Executive summaries of the SPARC studies can be obtained by clicking on the title of each study, and that of Dr Granvilles vai the TAEN website.

Press release - embargoed until 22/01/08

Improving the Working Environment for Older Workers

Two studies into the employment conditions of older workers have identified key issues which need to be addressed in order to meet the needs of our ageing workforce. The findings from these studies, both funded by SPARC, will be showcased to a wide-range of policy-makers, health specialists, employers and older people's organisations at a workshop hosted by TAEN, Help the Aged and SPARC.

A study of older workers has found that their motivation to continue to work could be greatly improved if more attention was paid to both the way they are managed and their physical working environments. There are many small steps which could be taken to reduce the physical consequences of manual work, such as redesigning equipment and training workers in its use. The research suggests that scheduling work in a way which respects the capabilities of the older worker may become more important as the workforce ages, rather than depending on informal organisation methods which rely on younger workers helping older workers with more demanding tasks.

Professor Peter Buckle, the project director said "Our research has enabled us to create a new model which identifies factors important to the ageing workforce. By mapping existing practices to the new model, and by identifying and resolving areas of difference, organisations and managers will be able to maintain and motivate their older workforce."

Work in the construction industry is physically demanding and stressful, often for long hours in hazardous conditions. Another study has investigated the needs and abilities of older workers in the construction industry. This has provided an insight into how the working environment may be improved to accommodate those needs.

One of the most important issues affecting older workers was found to be employment tenure: being directly employed rather than self-employed is associated with a more favourable working environment for the older worker. The research suggested that by easing the physical burden of the work wherever possible and by developing interventions to encourage all workers to follow safe practice, work-related injury and ill-health could be largely prevented in the long-term, allowing older workers to remain in the industry for longer.

Professor Alistair Gibb, the project director said "This research has shown us that older workers want to remain in the construction industry, but although their skills and experience are valued by employers, there is often a trade-off between that and their physical fitness. Unfortunately, in such a competitive industry where workers are generally paid based on what they do rather than hourly, many older workers leave as they can't keep up. Where cheap labour is readily available, there seems to be very little incentive for firms to bear the costs of making the workplace less hostile for the older worker. In order to make a more favourable, safe environment for older workers in the construction industry, intervention is required both at the industry level, and locally by individual employers."

Professor Peter Lansley, the director of SPARC said "Older workers are the unsung heroes of the British economy and skills base. Yet despite their contribution, few employers and policy makers place enough value on their knowledge and commitment to work, to implement changes to enable them to stay at work. These changes would, in general, be inexpensive and would benefit all workers.

"These two studies highlight the vicious circle of poorly-designed work practices and working environments which can contribute to health-problems and also de-motivate older workers. In spite of these issues though, many older workers enjoy their work and could continue to work, with considerable benefit to themselves, the economy and the public purse, if measures were put in place to enable them to do so."

Notes for Editors:

  1. Summaries of the two projects can be found at http://www.sparc.ac.uk/
  2. Work is a key concern for people in their fifties and sixties and many face difficult decisions about when to retire, or are forced to do so. The last 50 years have witnessed a change in the age structure of the population with a marked increase in the numbers of older people in the UK. The rising number of older people both in real terms and as a proportion of the total population has led to an increased focus on the role of older people in work, and on health inequalities and well-being in later life. Concerns have developed about a health divide, with some people continuing to live active, healthy lives well into old age while others experience multiple health problems. Consequently, there is growing interest in the health effects of work on the older worker.
  3. A workshop jointly organised by SPARC and TAEN discussing showcasing the research will be held on Tuesday 22nd January from 13.00 - 16.35 at the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining, 1 Carlton House Terrace, London, SW1Y 5DB. If you would like more information about the workshop, or to book your place, please visit http://www.sparc.ac.uk/workshops/2007-01-22-health-workplace-design-and-the-older-worker/.
  4. SPARC (Strategic Promotion of Ageing Research Capacity) is an initiative which brings together researchers, practitioners and policy makers in ageing. It specialises in communicating the latest design, engineering and biological ageing-related research to all stakeholders, making the case about the benefits for an ageing population of scientific research, and it encourages new blood into ageing research. For more information please visit http://www.sparc.ac.uk/.
  5. TAEN (The Ageing Employment Network) is a charity devoted to promoting an effective job market that serves the needs of people in mid and later life. It informs and advocates for age management policies to be adopted in employing organisations, by individuals and across the labour market. For more information, please visit http://www.taen.org.uk/. TAEN is supported by Help the Aged.
  6. Help the Aged is the charity fighting to free disadvantaged older people in the UK and overseas from poverty, isolation, neglect and ageism. It campaigns to raise public awareness of the issues affecting older people and to bring about policy change. The Charity delivers a range of services: information and advice, home support and community living, including international development work. These are supported by its paid-for services and fundraising activities - which aim to increase funding in the future to respond to the growing unmet needs of disadvantaged older people. Help the Aged also funds vital research into the health issues and experiences of older people to improve the quality of later life. For more information visit http://www.helptheaged.org.uk/.
  7. For all media enquiries contact the SPARC publicity officer Dr Lucy Chappell on 07515 188751.

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SPARC brings together researchers, practitioners and policy makers in ageing. It specialises in communicating the latest design, engineering and biological ageing-related research to all stakeholders, making the case about the benefits for an ageing population of scientific research, and it encourages new blood into ageing research. Although funding for SPARC ended in December 2008, SPARC is continuing to function from the University of Reading within a new initiative - KT-EQUAL which commenced in January 2009. Soon KT-EQUAL will have its own website but for the time being news and information about SPARC and KT-EQUAL events are being handled by the SPARC website.

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