Older Workers

Today's workforce is likely to contain a higher proportion of older workers as many people want, and feel the need, to continue working. A separate risk assessment is not required specifically for older workers. Employers have the same responsibilities for the health and safety of older employees as they have for all employees.

Dispelling the myths

Health and safety should not be used as an excuse to avoid employing older people. A separate risk assessment is not required specifically for older workers.

Research that has been carried out on age and employment is listed on the HSE (GB) website and includes the following findings:

  • That instead of being unfit to work due to ageing and ill health, 62 per cent of over 50s describe themselves as feeling as fit as ever, with structural and (other people's) attitudinal barriers thwarting their ability to stay involved.
  • Some employers can have stereotyped views of the abilities and attitudes of older workers.
  • That key elements of cognitive performance important for workplace health and safety, such as intelligence, knowledge, and use of language, do not generally show any marked decrease until after the age of 70.
  • Where decline in cognitive abilities such as working memory and reaction time does occur, there is evidence that safe performance of tasks is unlikely to be affected, as older individuals can generally compensate for them with experience, better judgement and job knowledge.
  • Strong evidence that, although speed of learning tends to slow with age, older workers can generally achieve a good standard in learning and performing new skills, given additional time and practice.
  • Little conclusive evidence that older workers have an increased risk of occupational accidents than younger workers. However, while older workers are generally less likely than younger workers to have occupational accidents, accidents involving them are likely to result in more serious injuries, permanent disabilities or death, than for younger workers. Older workers may experience more slips, trips and falls than younger workers, and recovery following an injury may take longer.

Guidance for employers

Older workers bring a broad range of skills and experience to the workplace and often have good judgement and job knowledge, so looking after their health and safety is as important as younger employees.

Do not assume that certain jobs are physically too demanding for older workers, many jobs are supported by technology, which can absorb the physical strain. Avoid assumptions by consulting and involving older workers when considering relevant control measures to put in place. Also, think about the activities older workers do, as part of your overall risk assessment and consider whether any changes are needed, for example, allowing older workers more time to absorb information or training, introducing opportunities for older workers to choose to move to other types of work. 

Consultation with your employees helps you to manage health and safety in a practical way.

Guidance for older workers

As an employee, you have a duty to take care of your own health and safety, and that of others who may be affected by your actions.

You must cooperate with your employer and other employees to help everyone meet their legal requirments.

If you have any specific queries or concerns about your health and safety or if you are experiencing difficulty in carrying out your work, you should raise this with your employer.

The law

Under health and safety law employers must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of all their employees, irrespective of age.

Employers must also provide adequate information, instruction, training and supervision to enable their employees to carry out their work safely.

Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (2000), employers have a duty to make a suitable and sifficient assessment of the workplace risks to the health and safety of all employees. This includes identifying groups of workers who might be at particular risk, which could include older workers.

Discrimination in respect of age is different from all other forms of direct discrimination in that it can be justifiable if it is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate end, such as considering changes to work that may be needed to ensure older workers can remain in the workplace.

Related topic areas

External resources

Key Legislation