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July 30, 2010

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No fixed retirement could have health and safety implications

The Government’s proposal to allow workers to continue in their job past the age of 65 will cause a health and safety headache for employers, some stakeholders are warning.

Published yesterday (29 July), the consultation document on phasing out the default retirement age (DRA) describes how the Government is proposing to remove it as part of a series of steps to enable and encourage people to work for longer. Currently, under the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations, which took effect in 2006, employers can force employees to retire when they reach 65 without having to pay any compensation.

Employer groups reacted strongly to the announcement, with the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) suggesting the decision to abandon the DRA would leave businesses with “many unresolved problems”. Said deputy director-general, John Cridland: “This will create uncertainty among employers and staff, who do not know where they stand. There will need to be a code of practice to address practical issues; we will need changes in the law to deal more effectively with difficult employment situations.”

Such “difficult situations” would encompass health and safety issues, Mr Cridland suggested. He said: “In certain jobs, especially physically demanding ones, working beyond 65 is not going to be possible for everyone.”

The Forum for Private Business claimed the move could prove “highly damaging” to thousands of small firms. Forum spokesman Chris Gorman explained: “Most employees are certainly competent enough to work beyond the age of 65 without a significant deterioration in their abilities. However, for those employees not willing to leave voluntarily, there will eventually come a time when the needs of the business will have to be considered.”

“In the absence of a default retirement age, the only viable option available to an employer is a capability dismissal based on the declining competence of the worker. We believe this would be an undignified and humiliating end to a career for most staff.”

Forum member Stuart Mitchell, who runs a machine-building business in Derbyshire, agreed that the proposed system could make for a very awkward situation. He said: “Many an employer has allowed someone a dignified retirement because although they were not really up to the job any more, it was only a matter of waiting a few months, or a year, and the problem would resolve itself happily.

“Once this rule comes in, that will be pointless and they might as well start the unpleasant and costly disciplinary process straight away, as it will be inevitable at some stage.”
Aon Consulting, which recently carried out a survey of public attitudes towards retirement, welcomed the proposal for people to be able to work longer but acknowledged there would be significant issues for employers. Said senior consultant Chris McWilliam: “Employers must ensure they are prepared for the implications of an older workforce, which may have an impact on issues such as health-care and well-being provision, and group risk costs.”

However, the Employers’ Forum on Age, which campaigned vociferously for an end to the DRA, said employers have nothing to fear from the change, and that age should not be seen as an indication of capability. Added campaign director, Rachel Krys: “The removal of forced retirement is an opportunity to put policies and processes in place that make the most of an age-diverse workforce. The EFA works with many companies who have removed the mandatory retirement age – B&Q, Nationwide, JD Wetherspoon, BT, The Co-operative and M&S, to name but a few – and they are already reaping the benefits. Age is not a proxy for ability.”

IOSH said any physical and psychological changes caused by ageing can usually be addressed easily. The Institution’s head of research and technical services, Dr Luise Vassie, explained: “Our research shows that reaction time is reduced with age, but attention to detail and accuracy is increased. We found that hearing and sight might be affected in the over 50s, but any problems caused by this can generally be overcome by providing suitable equipment, or making adjustments in the workplace to assist the employee.”

She continued: “Problems arise when companies haven’t made any adjustments to smooth the way for older workers. Simple things like introducing fitness breaks during work time helps improve alertness and reaction times among older workers. However, wellness programmes are beneficial to everyone – not just those aged over 50.”

The consultation document, Phasing out the default retirement age, is available to view and download here. The consultation period ends on 21 October.

The BIS website also contains a host of practical advice for businesses on employing older workers.

What makes us susceptible to burnout?

In this episode  of the Safety & Health Podcast, ‘Burnout, stress and being human’, Heather Beach is joined by Stacy Thomson to discuss burnout, perfectionism and how to deal with burnout as an individual, as management and as an organisation.

We provide an insight on how to tackle burnout and why mental health is such a taboo subject, particularly in the workplace.


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13 years ago

Aren’t these managers just so lovable. Mr Mitchell should be considering a capability process (which should really be looking at how a company can maximise the knowedge and experience vested in it’s more mature employees) rather than simply invoking a disciplinary process so that they can dump the old brigade. the comments made by the so-called “business leaders” (if they’re that good, how come we haven’t heard of them before) are a perfect illustration of why this legislation is required.