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Researchers at Brunel University London find choice is key to the health and wellbeing of older workers

As the state pension age steadily rises in the UK, so does the number of people working into their late sixties and seventies.  By 2030 there will be a 50% increase in people aged 65 and over who will be working. 

A recent study by researchers at Brunel University concluded that employing people over the age of 60 is a positive move for employers; they are less accident prone, can cope with work pressures and bring a wealth of experience and knowledge.  It’s also good news for the half a million people who choose to work on later in life, reporting health and social benefits of staying active at work.  

Funded by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health, the research by Brunel’s Dr Alexandra Farrow and Dr Frances Reynolds is one of the few pieces of research which looked at post retirement age workers’ own experiences of safety at work.

The researchers found from previous studies that people in their 60s had fewer accidents and injuries than younger colleagues, suggesting that education and experience might help them judge situations better. 

However there was evidence that, when accidents did happen, the health of older workers was more seriously affected. 

The funded study found that older workers thought they were subject to similar hazards at work as younger people, including email pressures, driving conditions and over-demanding clients. They largely coped with such pressures by using their experience or by changing roles or moving to part-time hours. 

“There are some physical demands like keeping alert when driving out to a distant place … but they’re the same things that would apply to anybody. I don’t feel they’re particularly more difficult for me than other people… I suppose I am more careful about stopping if I’m feeling tired and I suppose I’m more aware of places where one can stop to empty one’s bladder or something than I might have been as a younger man… but otherwise, no [there are no other hazards].” (Ben, 76, part-time locum GP)

Work was valued for maintaining identity and social contact among other benefits.

“There are people there [at work] who regard me as an integral part of the team … My boss always said that I was, you know, a valuable person … She didn’t ask my age. Because it didn’t matter.” (Adrian, 72, part-time estate agent)

While this research affirms the positive benefits of employing workers over 60 for both the employer and employee, it is worth remembering that things may be very different for those of us working beyond 65 in the future. 

Dr Farrow said: “We believe that choice is behind the positive results of this research but, as the pension age increases, people will have less choice over whether they want to continue working, or have the option of reducing their hours of work, and this might affect not only their safety in the workplace but also their wellbeing.”

IOSH research and information services manager Jane White said: “This is a really positive finding for our research. We all know the reality is that we are likely to have to work for much longer than the generations that have gone before us.

“Looking at the safety aspect of hiring older workers, it’s experience that can often set them up to deal with the demands and pressures of modern working life. It’s fantastic that we have real evidence against age discrimination and towards the benefits of hiring those beyond their sixties.”

To view the research and findings, visit the IOSH website.