Whilst pondering what to write about for this month’s blog I was idly looking through the HSE resources and I happened upon a section on “health and safety for older workers”. Happily it stated that 62% of the over 50s describe themselves as “feeling as fit as ever”. My immediate reaction as someone skidding towards 50 was “whoa, hold on there, since when was 50 old?!”. I mean OK I am aware of things aching that didn’t used to ache but I completed my third iron man triathlon in July. And I can keep pace with technology and gadgets (except tik tok and Instagram, the need for that escapes me completely). I teach and train in the classroom and industry and I have most of my own teeth (not all of them, bike accident, different story). I’m not old…am I?
Then I reflected a little and this got me thinking, so what if I am nearly 50. That’s the way the workforce is looking these days. In my 20s I thought I would be retiring at 50 or 55, but now I really don’t want to retire. I’m not ready to stop what I do as I love it and also I have to admit the money is useful!
With our ageing (?!) or should I say changing workforce? Are employers switched on to supporting the needs of our staff as they get older with the organisation? For years NEBOSH and IOSH have talked about young people as “vulnerable” workers due to their lack of physical and mental maturity. And again of course this is a broad statement, not all young people are immature in the same way that not all older staff are sensible! But are we making adaptations for the changing demographic or are we expecting people to carry on at 55 as they did at 35?
The HSE website states that there is no particular need for a specific risk assessment for “older workers”. Risk assessments should be reviewed anyway when something changes and not when someone hits a magic age. Whilst there may be some impact on cognitive function as workers age, this is made up for with “experience, better judgement and job knowledge”. And that contrary to the old adage “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” the HSE says that generally yes, you can!
What is age discrimination?
The Equality Act 2010 considers age to be a “protected characteristic”, therefore discounting a potential employee because of their age, or discriminating because someone looks too old (or indeed, too young) would be considered unlawful. ACAS have some excellent resources Acas guide on age discrimination | Acas which employers and employees may find useful. Age discrimination would also potentially include discrimination on the grounds of age related health conditions, sex discrimination and gender reassignment discrimination. And this led me onto an elephant in the room for many female employees and that is the Menopause.
What can we do to help?
In the UK, celebrity campaigners such as Davina McCall have raised the profile of the menopause and the phase preceding it (known as peri-menopause). But are employers taking the opportunity to support what is in reality the half of the population who will at some time go through this phase? Whilst “menopause” is not a protected characteristic under the Equality Act (and it certainly isn’t a disability), there are still issues that arise for some females as they experience this.
Forward thinking employers are engaging in health and work. Men’s health, and Women’s health and Trans health issues needs to be discussed more. And the workplace is a great opportunity to take that captive audience and raise awareness! What did your organisation do for Men’s Health Week 2022? If it was nothing, then consider changing that for 2023. Women’s health? Well again look for information on Women’s heath and maybe the menopause as a starting point. Challenge the stereotypes, provide the resources, educate your teams, create ambassadors but most of all support your employees as they age and they will support your organisation in return.
For a diary of awareness days such as menopause awareness and men’s health week, see Calendar of national campaigns | NHS Employers which also provides some useful links.
RRC Lead Tutor