Making workplaces safer for older workers can improve productivity

Given the ageing workforce and importance of every worker, businesses have to cater to older employees

The reality of an ageing workforce is rapidly dawning upon Singapore.

Macroeconomic projections - such as that by 2030, 19 per cent of Singapore's population would be above the age of 65, compared with about 12.4 per cent in 2014 - are a stark reminder of the upcoming reality.

Given the view that every worker makes an important contribution to the economy, keeping each of them safe and secure would do well to support supply to the workforce.

Much research and debate have emerged on how ageing workers tend to raise the risk of fatalities in the workplace.

Evidence in some developed economies shows that when an older worker does get injured, their injuries are often more severe. They also may take longer to get better. This slows the potential positive contribution to any economy.

Singapore has recognised the need to step up awareness, understanding and acceptance of workplace safety and health (WSH) for all workers.

The intensified focus to safeguard older workers in the workplace was evident from the July announcement by the Tripartite Oversight Committee (TOC) on Workplace Health.

Specifically, the TOC aims to reach 120,000 mature workers by 2025 by working together with developers and businesses to deliver accessible, customised and targeted programmes to meet workers' occupational and general health needs.

Singapore is also showing its commitment by stepping up efforts on other fronts.

Earlier this year, the Ministry of Manpower in its Committee of Supply debate in Parliament said that WSH Construction Regulations will be enhanced to tackle three areas of concern, including that of older and low-wage workers.

These relate to vehicle-related accidents within worksites, accidents involving formwork and lack of proper supervision, communication and coordination of work activities.


The ministry has indicated that it will also consider laying out in the WSH Act clear roles of corporate officers in maintaining an efficient WSH system.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong recently announced that Singapore should aim to reduce workplace fatalities to less than one death for every 100,000 workers in 10 years' time.

Organisations can and should work to pro-actively identify ways to support ageing workers and develop customised strategies to reduce risks due to ageing and physical demands.

Businesses not prepared to respond to the needs of workers as they age will likely face workplace safety consequences and productivity challenges.

The General Insurance Association (GIA) of Singapore, a trade association of general insurers that is active in the business community, has some simple and effective approaches to ensure the safety of older workers.

For a start, they can be given greater flexibility in their work schedules, conditions, organisation, location and tasks.

They can also be afforded slightly greater autonomy over how, when and where work is completed. This could include telecommuting, reduced or flexible hours.

According to one 2013 survey in the US, nearly 80 per cent of older workers surveyed indicated that flexible work options such as job sharing and creating a job to meet their specific needs enabled them to stay alert, healthy and productive in the workplace.

Increasingly being adopted is the effort by employers to provide and design ergonomically-friendly work environments including workstations, tools, floor surfaces, adjustable seating, better illumination where needed as well as screens and surfaces with less glare.

Teamwork is core to the success of many organisations, and leveraging on this notion can certainly help enhance workplace safety.

The writer is a member of the management committee of the GIA of Singapore as well as a convenor of the GIA's work injury compensation committee.

This article was published in 
The Business Times yesterday