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Working better, longer

Dr Christa Sedlatschek, Director of EU-OSHA

We've just seen the launch in Copenhagen of the European Year of Active Ageing 2012, which deals with an issue that will be vital for all of us in the years ahead.

The challenge is that we’re living longer than ever before. It’s a good problem to have, of course: since 1960, average life expectancy in Europe has gone up by eight years.

But combine this with falling birth rates, and the result is that we’re likely to see increasing numbers of older people in the European workforce. More than half of older workers currently leave work before they have to, for a variety of reasons. Estimates show, though, that there will be a big rise in workers aged 55 to 64 between 2010 and 2060, as a share of the total workforce. Increasingly, employers will have to get used to relying on older workers.

This could be a good thing. Some studies show that older workers tend to be more committed to their work, take fewer days off sick, and stay in their jobs for longer. While these workers can suffer more from age-related ill health, they bring a wealth of maturity, experience and accumulated skill to their jobs, which more than makes up for it.
But having an older workforce will mean making adjustments. That’s where the European Year of Active Ageing 2012 comes in: it’s about promoting the quality of life and well-being of older people in Europe, and promoting solidarity between the generations, helping to counter some of the prejudices that exist in relation to older people, for example. Active ageing means growing old in good health and playing a full part in society, making use of the potential that we have, even at an advanced age.
And of course, a good working life is an important part of this active ageing. Throughout the year, we’ll be looking to get across the message that occupational safety and health (OSH) has a crucial role to play, in contributing to a better and longer working life. We will be publishing all kinds of information on our website about how employers can take account of the needs of older workers. And we’ll be reinforcing the connection between active ageing and OSH at some of the public events and conferences that have been organised during the year.
I’m sure that with the European Year of Active Ageing, we can help workers stay healthier for longer in tomorrow’s labour market.