Safeguarding our workforce

Australia’s Aging Workforce

The ageing of Australia’s workforce is one of businesses’ major emerging challenges.  By 2044-45 it is estimated that 25% of Australians will be aged 65 years or over, which is approximately double the present population.

Additionally, over the last decade the average age of the Australian workforce (especially the full-time workforce) has been increasing faster than the average age of the general population (Department of Parliamentary Services, 2005).

In September 2010 there were approximately 5.8 million adults not in the labour force.  Over 3.3 million, or 57% of these people were aged 55 years and over (The Australian Institute for Social Research, 2008).  As more people move into older age groups, overall workforce participation rates are predicted to substantially drop.  Some estimates project that there will be a loss of one third of the workforce over the next two decades to retirement, redundancy and illness/disability (The Australian Institute for Social Research, 2008).

By early next decade labour demand is expected to exceed supply (Productivity Commission, 2005).

The impact of health and safety measures

To manage the effect of the ageing population on the Australian workforce it will be necessary to introduce measures to boost labour force participation and manage skill shortages.  Research has shown that immigration cannot resolve the loss of labour force, and that increasing taxes is unsustainable (The Australian Institute for Social Research, 2008).  However, effective occupational health and safety (OHS) policies and procedures to assist with injury prevention, management and effective return to work are important elements in achieving this.

OHS is an area of real concern.  5.3% (640,700 people) of the 12 million people who undertook some form of paid employment during the 2009-10 financial year experienced at least one work-related injury or illness.  This equates to a rate of 53 injuries per 1,000 people employed.

Improving the safety of the workplace and the health of its members has always been important but now more than ever there is a need to safeguard our diminishing workforce and prevent Australian workers from becoming statistics.

Older workers are more vulnerable

While the majority of individuals who suffer injuries in the workplace are middle aged (45-54 years), older workers are more likely than younger workers to have a fatal workplace incident.  The fatality rate among workers in 2009-10 increased from 0.7 per 100,000 workers aged 15-34 years, to 1.0 among 35-54 year olds, and 1.8 among workers aged 55 years and over, as shown in Figure 1.

Older workers are not only more likely to be involved in work related incidents that prove fatal; they are also more likely to suffer from illnesses associated with long-term exposure to dangerous substances/working conditions, such as mesothelioma (from asbestos exposure) and noise-induced hearing loss.

This means these important older workers are also vulnerable workers.

Prevention is better than Cure

Considering the costs associated with work related injuries and accidents, and the impact of the ageing population on the Australian workforce the importance of prevention strategies cannot be underestimated.  Over the past two decades governments at both the federal and state/territory level have made concerted efforts to reduce rates of workplace injuries and fatalities, including raising awareness of the importance of OHS, improving collection and analysis of workers’ compensation data, and harmonising the states and territories’ work health and safety legislation (The Australian Institute for Social Research, 2008).

At the same time, government policy has placed increasing emphasis on positive or ‘productive’ ageing, including supporting healthy lifestyles, lifelong learning and programs to reduce dependency and manage functional loss effectively (The Australian Institute for Social Research, 2008).

PeopleMetrics Safety and Commitment Survey

Improvements are not only occurring at the government level.  Every organisation has a responsibility to safeguard the health and safety of its workers and to find ways to lessen the impact of the ageing population on the availability of able workers.  To this end, safety surveys are becoming a popular adjunct to OHS initiatives aimed at improving employee commitment to safety.

More than ever, your ability to fully utilise human capital largely depends on how effectively you can improve working conditions and prevent accidents/incidents. PeopleMetrics has developed the Safety Attitudes & Engagement Survey to help organisations to assess and manage safety related issues and attitudes, and to better understand the impact of OHS policy.  The survey allows you to:

  • Compare workforce and management views on current OHS issues
  • Compare perceived v’s actual compliance with safety policies and procedures
  • Examine safety attitudes and behaviour both in and outside of the workplace.

It can also be used in conjunction with our Employee attitudes and Commitment Survey to understand other relevant factors, including values, stress, organisational climate, leadership, trust and support.

Contact us today to find out more about PeopleMetric’s Safety and Commitment Survey.

References

Department of Parliamentary Services (2005). Research Note: Australia’s ageing workforce. Parliament of Australia: Canberra.

The Australian Institute for Social Research. (2008). Exploring the impact of an ageing workforce on the South Australian Workers’ Compensation Scheme: Chapter 1 Introduction. The University of Adelaide: Adelaide.

Productivity Commission. (2005). Australia’s Health Workforce, Research Report. Australian Government: Canberra.