Friday, April 11, 2008

Study: Occupational Health Workers Not Prepared to Help Aging Workforce

Research conducted by Helen Arnold, an occupational health adviser at the United Kingdome's Ashford and St Peter's Hospitals NHS Trust, shows that occupational health is not getting to grips with the requirements of the aging workforce and that there are "worrying gaps in OH advisers' knowledge on managing the health of older employees."

For example, Arnold's research found that only 9% of those questioned could correctly classify an older worker as aged 50 and above (whereas 39%classified an older worker as aged 65 and above) and that some OH advisers felt the term "older workers" was discriminatory and that they should be treated the same as all other employees. "Consequently, those who are being employed to advise organisations could actually be reinforcing common misconceptions, and potentially putting the health of those they are trying to protect and promote at risk."

As a result of her research, Arnold recommends, among other things that:
  • education, training and curriculum development should incorporate the definition of "older workers" as accepted in the UK, critical overview of the current literature base in relation to older staff with a greater emphasis on evidence-based practice, and use of needs assessment tools in relation to older staff, such as the Work Ability Index Tool.
  • a national policy in relation to older workers be developed, and that all NHS trusts and OH departments ensure they have a comprehensive policy that promotes the health of older workers within the workplace, to include fitness-for-work assessments, voluntary annual health assessments for staff aged 50 and above, and definition and supporting statement of age-management practices.
  • all OH departments annually audit the provision of OH healthcare to older workers, including occupational injuries in relation to age, long-term sickness absence and percentage of successful rehabilitation back to work, and number of older workers who have been redeployed.
Source: Occupational Health "Occupational health and the ageing workforce" (April 8, 2008)

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