Overview of policies, strategies and programmes in relation to the occupational health and safety of older workers - Ireland

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Initiatives from government/government-affiliated organisations

Occupational health and safety policies

The current Ireland OSH “Strategy Statement 2013-2015”[1] sets out the HSA vision for the current three year period. It gives the background to the Strategy and sets out the strategic goals for the period and also indicates in general terms how the goals will be delivered. There are explicit links between the Irish Strategy and the EU Strategy. The Strategy is supported by the “HSA Programme of Work 2013”[2] which sets out the detailed activities to be undertaken during the year. The “HSA Annual Report for 2012” describes the action taken in that year to deliver the aims of the previous strategy for 2010-2012.

These three core documents do not appear to contain explicit references to the challenge in OSH terms of the ageing population. It may be that within more generalised objectives and activities there are age-related issues but these have not been identified. There is a brief reference in Strategic Priority 4 of the Strategy to “Create awareness and understanding of risk management amongst students”, and this is the only age-related objective noted. It is worth mentioning that the Strategy has been produced in consultation with a wide range of stakeholders including for example, the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management, the Commission for Energy Regulation, the Department of Health, the Health Service Executive, An Garda Síochána (Ireland’s National Police Service), the National Disability Authority and the Road Safety Authority.

The main issues affecting Ireland at present are probably little different from those affecting most other Member States – mainly problems stemming from the economic crisis. From an HSA perspective, the “Strategy Statement 2013-2015” gives a useful summary of some of the challenges – continuing reduction of workplace death, injury and disease and their economic impact; the current economic position and the need both to grow the economy and reduce costs; the changing nature of the workforce and workplaces; public sector reform; and dealing with misconceptions of the role of OHS regulation.

A more general search of the HSA database has identified a few references to the ageing population. One of these is to the Farm Safety Plan for 2003-07, which is now out of date; it recognises the challenge of the ageing population in farming, but does not specify issues nor actions. Another reference is the booklet “Staying Fit for Farming”[3] produced by a number of government and industry bodies acting in partnership. It combines advice with case studies, and although not specifically directed at the older worker, many of the case studies feature older workers and much of the content about staying fit for work applies with greater force to them. The booklet tackles common health promotion topics such as weight, heart care, and smoking, as well as challenging areas such as stress

In May 2008, the HSA published the “Workplace Health and Well-Being Strategy”[4] – an exploration of issues around the health and well-being of the working age population. The strategy was prepared by an expert group drawn from a wide range of health professions.

The objective of the Strategy was “to create a workplace culture and environment that will promote health and well-being, prevent ill health and support the rehabilitation to the workplace of those who are out of work through ill health or disability”. The Strategy recognises the challenge of the ageing workforce and its recommendation 3 states “Establish structures and supports that facilitate people to stay in the workforce beyond the normal retirement age where appropriate. However, this must take account of existing policies in both the public and private sector, which facilitate people retiring at 65 years of age”. Other recommendations also refer directly or indirectly to managing factors such as age, gender, and disability. It also makes recommendations in relation to key workplace health issues, though these are general in nature. It was backed up by a supporting “Response of the Health and Safety Authority to the Workplace Health and Well-Being Strategy Report of Expert Group”[5], which set out the actions needed to implement the strategy, and who should take the lead. However it appears that cooperation across government proved difficult, and although the HSA continues to take forward some of the recommendations, the Strategy was not implemented due to the absence of a cross departmental implementation group. A new cross-government plan “Healthy Ireland” was launched in March 2013 (see below) and the HSA is involved in its implementation group.

Active ageing policies

Looking more generally at initiatives in Ireland, an important step forward was taken on 24 April 2013, with the launch by the Minister of State for Health of the “National Positive Ageing Strategy”[6], which recognises and builds upon national and international experience and guidelines. Its vision begins by saying that “Ireland will be a society for all ages that celebrates and prepares properly for individual and population ageing.” The document examines many factors related to age and work. To support the whole-of-Government and whole-of-society approach, it emphasises the importance of working across government at national and local level and of involving the statutory, voluntary and private sectors and is part of the “Healthy Ireland” plan (see below).

The strategy sets out a number of national goals and cross-cutting objectives; National Goal 1 is about removing barriers and part of its objectives is “to recognise and enable the active participation of people in formal and informal work and voluntary activities as they age, according to their individual needs, preferences and capacities”. The associated objective is to “Develop a wide range of employment options (including options for gradual retirement) for people as they age and identify any barriers (legislative, attitudinal, custom and practice) to continued employment and training opportunities for people as they age”. Education and life-long learning, volunteering, cultural and social participation, and transport are also dealt with under this national goal. One of the main cross-cutting objectives is dedicated to combatting ageism by (in summary):

  • promoting activities which will help to combat age discrimination and to dispel age-related stereotypes
  • awareness campaigns
  • ensuring that older people’s needs are considered in the development of any policies that might affect them
  • promoting a better understanding of the importance of intergenerational solidarity and encourage intergenerational initiatives
  • creating a better awareness of the needs and preferences of people as they age during policy and service development.

The strategy is a comprehensive examination of the need to ensure that Irish society will be “age friendly” in the years ahead.

The launch of the Strategy in April 2013 was closely followed on 13-14 June 2013 by the “EU Summit on Active and Healthy Ageing: An Action Agenda for European Cities and Communities”[7] held in Dublin. This conference seemed to focus mainly on the “city” context of ageing and seems not to have considered employment issues to any extent. However, the “Dublin Declaration”, agreed and issued at the meeting, included a commitment to “Promote and support the development of employment and volunteering opportunities for all, including older people”.

Employment

The OECD “Thematic follow-up review of policies to improve labour market prospects for older workers: Ireland” reflects the situation in mid-2012 and summarises progress on a number of important areas since the original OECD report in 2005. It looks at strengthening financial incentives to carry on working; at tackling employment barriers on the side of employers; and at improving the employability of older workers. Although the report scores most sub-objectives as “some action taken, but more could be done” most of the progress examples seem to be general in nature, rather than specific to older workers.

Public Health

The general approach to health in Ireland is a government priority. “Healthy Ireland – a framework for improved health and wellbeing 2013 – 2025”[8] was launched by the Department of Health in March 2013, with a foreword by An Taoiseach (the Prime Minister) which emphasises the government support behind the framework document. Healthy Ireland is “a framework for action to improve the health and wellbeing of the country over the coming generation”. It reflects the international experience of a new commitment to public health with a focus on prevention. It takes a “whole of Government” and “whole of society” approach to improving health and wellbeing, and the specific goals are:

  • Increase the proportion of people who are healthy at all stages of life
  • Reduce health inequalities
  • Protect the public from threats to health and wellbeing
  • Create an environment where every individual and sector of society can play their part in achieving a healthy Ireland”

Action is being taken forward across six main themes which include partnerships and cross-sectoral work, health and health reform, and research and evidence. The document provides health statistics to help understand the current position in Ireland and emphasises the links between health and the economy: “The rationale for taking on this significant programme of work is clear – both in terms of health costs and potential health benefits. Proven economic benefits flow from having a healthy society. Prevention at the population level results in better value, increased productivity and improved quality of life”.

However, the influence of work upon health is not discussed in the document. There are no explicit references to work, neither to how the workplace can be used to improve health nor to the impact of ill health upon work. It is understood that this issue has now been recognised and addressed, at least in part, through the formation of the high-level Implementation Group, in which the HSA is represented at a senior level.

Initiatives from social partners

An initial scrutiny of the websites of the two main social partners groupings – Ibec (the Irish Business and Employers’ Confederation) and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) – has not revealed any initiatives, good practice examples, or relevant guidance on the topic of the health and safety of older workers, apart from a guide for employers from Ibec on “Phased retirement – some points to consider”, but it is not a publically available document.

Chambers Ireland, the Irish Chambers of Commerce, published in 2005 a handbook on employing older workers, developed by the ARROW Skillnet network (Assisting the Recruitment & Retention of Older Workers). The aim of the handbook is to provide practical advice for employers who either currently employ or are seeking to recruit older workers. The handbook does not seem to be publicly available[9].

Initiatives from non-governmental organisations

National level

Active Ageing

A major initiative on ageing has been undertaken by the Ageing Well Network (AWN) which has produced “The New Agenda on Ageing”[10] – subtitled “To Make Ireland the Best Country to Grow Old In”. The Ageing Well Network describes itself as “an independent group of leaders, heads of organisations and strategic thinkers”. The mission of the network is two-fold:

  • to reframe the agenda on ageing – by extending the focus beyond health, care and pension provision to also address the significant opportunities of a rapidly ageing global population; and
  • to act as a catalyst and support for better long-term planning and greater collaboration among agencies involved in policy development and service provision across the public, private and voluntary sectors.

The AWN was one of the joint organisers of the EU Summit on Active and Healthy Ageing. The “New Agenda on Ageing” report provides a full picture of the many issues surrounding ageing, covering health, wealth, age friendly communities, engagement, home and strategy development and implementation. It summarises a number of interesting international case studies, but none of the work-related ones are from Ireland. Chapter 3 of the report deals with “Wealth”, and this includes a long section on the employment of older workers (pp100-109); later sections deal with economic matters, including pensions. The employment section summarises a great deal of research into employers’ attitudes to older workers, (including some 2001 Irish research); the age-friendly workplace (including some Irish experience, again from 2001); unemployment among older people (some Irish statistics); retirement legislation (which gives quite a full picture of the Irish position exploring the relationship with equality legislation); and attitudes to retirement.

Age Action is a charity which promotes positive ageing and better policies and services for older people and campaigns on their behalf. In May 2013, it prepared a document entitled “Pre-budget submission 2014”, which provides a broad view of current issues and challenges affecting older people in general, including

  • income and taxation (including state and occupational pensions);
  • education, skills and employment (including the need to improve retirement age flexibility, and develop targeted activation programmes to get older people back to work and additional supports to assist people to stay in work;
  • health, transport; and energy poverty.

Research

The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA)[11] is “a large-scale, nationally representative, longitudinal study on ageing in Ireland, the overarching aim of which is to make Ireland the best place in the world to grow old.” The study is led by Trinity College Dublin in collaboration with a number of institutions in Ireland and longitudinal studies on ageing in Europe and the US. TILDA “collects information on all aspects of health, economic and social circumstances (from over 8,500 people aged 50 years and over, living in Ireland) in a series of data collection waves once every two years. TILDA is unique amongst longitudinal studies in the breadth of physical, mental health and cognitive measures collected. This data, together with the extensive social and economic data, makes TILDA one of the most comprehensive research studies of its kind both in Europe and internationally.” In October 2013, TILDA was invited by MEP Emer Costello to present the study and its findings to the European Parliament. Some of the insights presented by TILDA at this meeting included:

  • Life gets better as we age: Quality of Life continues to improve after age 50 and peaks between the ages of 65 and 75. At 83 years of age Quality of Life is equivalent to that at 50 years.
  • The societal contribution of older people: supporting their parents, children and grandchildren in both care and money contributions, and engagement in social activities such as volunteering.
  • Life-course: adverse childhood events significantly influence health status in later life.
  • Untreated treatable diseases: simple health monitoring can identify undiagnosed health issues. For example, Atrial Fibrillation, an irregular heartbeat, is undiagnosed in over 40% of people aged 50 and over in the TILDA study and is a risk factor for stroke and heart attacks.
  • Longer working lives: working is good for your brain. Peer groups in the work place matter a lot and may be more influential than the state in determining when a person retires. Working, education, and social engagement enhance cognitive function and protect against dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

TILDA has been invited to return to the European Parliament in 2015 to run a showcase workshop for the Parliament and the Commission.

Regional level

One of the major initiatives organised by the Ageing Well Network (AWN) is the “Irish Age Friendly Counties Programme”, which began in October 2007. By mid-2013, 11 County programmes were fully operational. Since 1 January 2014, the programme, previously hosted by AWN, has changed its name to “Age Friendly Ireland” and is being hosted by the Community and Local Government and Dublin City Council. The objective of Age Friendly Ireland is to roll out the Irish “Age Friendly Counties Programme” to all Local Authorities area by 2015[12].

The programme’s objective is to form an alliance of local actors (including local authority, health service, police, business community, voluntary organisations and academic institutions, etc.) in order to consult with older people and their organisations to form an Older Person's Forum and develop a draft Strategy reflecting the priorities articulated by older people and key stakeholders. The finalisation of the strategy includes a reviewing process and support for its implementation as well as an affiliation to the WHO Global Network of Age Friendly Cities and Communities.

The website of the initiative states that the different Alliances have built up a strong track record of imaginative changes at local level – from Men's Sheds and Bogus Caller Cards to Age Friendly Business Recognition Schemes, lengthened traffic light crossing times and other 'age-friendly town' initiatives. Although business is involved, the extent to which work-related issues are being incorporated into the Programme is not clear.

References

  1. HSA Strategy Statement 2013-2015: http://www.hsa.ie/eng/Publications_and_Forms/Publications/Corporate/Strategy_Statement_2013.pdf (accessed October 2014)
  2. HSA Programme of Work 2013: http://www.hsa.ie/eng/Publications_and_Forms/Publications/Corporate/programme_of_Work_2013.pdf (accessed October 2014)
  3. National Centre for Men’s Health, Institute of Technology, Carlow – “Staying Fit for farming”: http://www.hsa.ie/eng/Publications_and_Forms/Publications/Agriculture_and_Forestry/Staying_Fit_For_Farming.pdf (accessed October 2014)
  4. HSA, Workplace Health and Well-Being Strategy. Available at: http://www.hsa.ie/eng/Publications_and_Forms/Publications/Occupational_Health/Workplace_Health_and_Well-Being_Strategy.pdf (accessed October 2014)
  5. HSA, Response of the Health and Safety Authority to the Workplace Health and Well-Being Strategy Report of Expert Group. Available at: http://www.hsa.ie/eng/Publications_and_Forms/Publications/Occupational_Health/Wellbeing_Response.pdf (accessed October 2014)
  6. Department of Health – National Positive Ageing Strategy: http://health.gov.ie/healthy-ireland/national-positive-ageing-strategy/ (accessed October 2014)
  7. DG Sanco webpage on the EU Summit on Active and Healthy Ageing: An Action Agenda for European Cities and Communities: http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/health_consumer/dyna/enews/enews.cfm?al_id=1386 (Accessed December 2014)
  8. Department of Health, “Healthy Ireland”: http://health.gov.ie/healthy-ireland/ (accessed October 2014)
  9. EU-OSHA, Ageing workers prevention report, Section II - Policy actions on occupational safety and health and ageing workers, unpublished, 2006
  10. The Ageing Well Network (AWN) - “The New Agenda on Ageing”: http://www.atlanticphilanthropies.org/learning/report-new-agenda-ageingto-make-ireland-best-country-grow-old (accessed October 2014)
  11. The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA), web page: http://www.tcd.ie/tilda/ (accessed October 2014)
  12. Age Friendly Ireland website: http://agefriendlyireland.ie/ (accessed October 2014)