Viewpoint: Common cause - improving workforce health

Chris Ball on maintaining ‘work ability’ and the challenge of having an ageing workforce.

When people are forced out of a job through poor health, it is not only the individual who suffers. The loss of skills and knowledge to the firm concerned and the country as a whole is huge. Preventing decline in work performance as people get older may sound starry eyed but it is most certainly possible.

More than 6.5 million people of working age in the UK have a musculoskeletal disorder. These are the second biggest cause of work-limiting problems and sickness absence in the UK. They represent a huge cost to the economy – estimated at more than £7 billion at 2007 prices.

In the mid 1990s the Finnish government had a huge problem of workers retiring early through work-related disabilities. Action was needed. A series of long-term collaborative programmes led to the adoption of proactive measures to maintain the work ability of the Finnish workforce.

It was clear that declining work ability could be prevented. Evidence showed decline caused by the poor design, working conditions and nature of work (as well as the organisation’s management style) could all be prevented and that work ability could even improve when appropriate changes were made.

Relevant aspects included ergonomic issues, the working environment the skills and knowledge of the worker, his or her attitudes, personal health and fitness and much more. What has become known as the Finnish Work Ability Model was born.

For more than 20 years The Age and Employment Network has campaigned for age equality in the labour market and policies to support workers in mid- and later life.

CSP members and branches can join TAEN, use resources, attend events and get involved in making the added years of life we have been given both healthy and productive.

We have much to share and much common cause to work for.

Chris Ball is the chief executive of The Age and Employment Network

Chris Ball, chief executive, The Age and Employment Network

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