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People are living for longer and the goalposts keep getting stretched in terms of how long we have to work for. But this poses added problems for those working in the construction sector as, despite the advances in technology and design, it’s still a very physical industry.

Many will end up retiring early due to ill-health or not being well enough to enjoy their hard-earned retirement. According to the latest figures from Macro Trends, the average life expectancy in the UK is 81.65 years. And according to Trading Economics, the average retirement age for men and women is expected to reach 66 by the end of 2022.

What can the construction sector do to help its workforce?

Here at Construction Health, we want to work with the sector to highlight some of the things that can be done to support our older workers to STAY in the industry.

There is a huge focus on attracting new talent with government-backed apprenticeship schemes and traineeships as well as a focus on further education training courses. But with many older workers not being supported to remain in work, crucial talent, skills and experience are being lost.

Diversity and inclusion are a priority for all companies, but age shouldn’t be any different to ethnicity, gender etc.

Research by the Department of Work and Pensions, cited in this paper by the CITB (Construction Industry Training Board) has found that 46 percent of men aged 50-54 who left the construction industry said it was due to ill-health. That’s almost double the average for all other industries at 25 percent, so, it’s clear more needs to be done.

Addressing the skills shortage in the construction industry:

Keeping older workers in the industry is essential to addressing the skills shortage. Older workers can be of significant value.

The HSE (Health & Safety Executive) review of research found the following:

  • 62 percent of over 50s described themselves as feeling “as fit as ever.” But the cultural attitude to them hindered their ability to stay involved, more than a lack of mental or physical fitness.
  • Stereotypical views of the abilities and attitudes of older workers are still held by some employers.
  • Elements such as intelligence, knowledge, and use of language, don’t generally show any marked decrease until after the age of 70 – and these are key to workplace health and safety.
  • Older individuals can usually compensate with experience, better judgement, and job knowledge if there are changes in abilities, such as working memory and reaction time.
  • There is strong evidence that if older workers are given additional time and practice to learn new skills, they can learn them.
  • There is little conclusive evidence that older workers have an increased risk of occupational accidents than younger workers. However, accidents involving this demographic are more likely to result in more serious injuries and recovery may take longer, so putting work plans in place to look after them is essential.

What can the industry do?

1 – Fitness for work assessments and engaging Occupational Health (OH) services 

You can engage an OH service provider to undertake a fitness for work programme. These medical programmes are health assessments carried out to check whether a person is fit and well enough to do a particular job or task.

OH professionals are perfectly placed to advise on any adjustments that could be made to ensure that person remains at work.

The society of occupational medicine has developed some new guidance following the demise of Construction Better Health, which you can read HERE.

2 – Provide health promotion programmes

To help your employees stay fit and healthy, one of the best things you can do is provide access to services like physiotherapy and counselling. We covered more on addressing mental health in the construction industry in our blog HERE.

Workers in this industry tend to work long hours and many still feel there is a stigma attached to getting extra support for physical and mental issues. Providing access to these services is something you can do to help address this.

3 – Encourage a culture of openness about health issues at work

Taking point two one step further, you can embed positive attitudes to health issues in the workplace to your organisational culture by making it a part of your strategy from the top down.

Including a discussion and openness to age-related health issues is imperative to this. Employees are more inclined to disclose any issues they are facing if they regard managers/supervisors as supportive. Managers can only be sympathetic to needs and make suitable work adjustments if they are made aware of a problem.

It’s also important to remember there are wide individual differences in functional abilities at any given age and the impact of ageing is minimal among those of working age.

4 – Phase-out or reduce physically demanding tasks 

In its review into health and safety for older workers, the HSE makes the following helpful suggestions you could implement in your workforce where appropriate:

  • Are there ways you could seek to eliminate or reduce physically demanding activities for an older workforce? For example, look at new technology, equipment, off-site manufacturing for certain aspects? Could tasks that contain manual handling be designed differently to minimise the risk?
  • Do not assume that certain jobs are physically too demanding for older workers, Work that is supported by technology to assist or take the physical strain off someone can still be carried out by an older workforce. Don’t assume all jobs are too physically demanding, look for ways around them.
  • Don’t review risk assessments only when an employee reaches a certain age – instead, ensure they are looked at when anything significant changes for someone health-wise.

5 – Provide access to flexible working

There are lots of ways this can easily be achieved to assist someone in staying at work longer and ensuring you are mindful of their health and wellbeing. Adjustments are and should be made in the workplace to retain valuable and experienced staff. Some suggestions include:

  • Adjusting schedules or hours where benefits are retained
  • Adapting employee roles or job responsibilities as abilities change
  • Phased retirement.

How can we help at Construction Health?

We want the stats relating to the way the older workforce is treated and looked after to enable more people to stay in the industry for longer, keeping valuable experience and skills in the sector.

Our mission is to work with the industry to make it healthier and happier and we can help with:

  • Designing a fitness for work programme and finding a suitable OH provider
  • Manager/supervisor training
  • Workplace solutions to minimise manual handling.

We’ve said it before, and we will say it again: every construction company needs a health and wellbeing at work strategy.

It’s an intense industry, but one where those with experience thrive and help the industry as a whole. It’s fantastic to be able to welcome new and young people to the industry, but as with any sector, it takes time to build up experience and knowledge.

It’s important to remove the stigma that construction is a young man’s or woman’s game. But it still is intense on the body and mind, there are no two ways about it.

So, make sure you give your workforce a fighting chance by supporting them in this essential area. And if you need any help from us, just get in touch.

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