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Aging Workforce Tops List of Safety Concerns in European Nations

One of the most significant\r\nroadblocks facing safety and health professionals in years to come is an\r\naging workforce.

Preventative action is the weapon Hans-Horst Konkolewsky that the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work and the European nations are using to combat one of the most significant roadblocks facing safety and health professionals in years to come: an aging workforce.

Konkolewsky, the director for the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, told attendees at the ASSE Safety 2001 Conference and Exposition in Anaheim Monday that lucrative retirement packages are prompting workers to leave the workforce at an earlier age than ever before. Early retirement is becoming so problematic, in fact, that when it comes to safety and health because it is leaving labor force without skilled workers who are not only have experience performing their jobs productively, but also safely.

"Now instead of working 45 to 50 years on the job, many workers are opting to retire after just 35 or 40 years of service," Konkolewsky said. Making the issue even more challenging is the fact that there is a decreasing number of young workers to replace these retirees. For that reason, the European Union is beginning to looking into creating legislation that would not only reduce the financial incentives prompting workers to retire early, but also explore ways of luring retired workers back into the workforce.

"One study the agency conducted found that 40 percent of retired workers say they hope to find another job," Konkolewsky said, adding that government officials find the statistic encouraging in the sense that it makes the job of getting retirees back on the job less intimidating.

According to Konkolewsky, an aging workforce isn''t an issue confined to Europe. Instead, he said, it''s more of a global issue that safety and health professionals worldwide, particularly those in the United States, will have to deal with in the next decade. And when it comes to keeping older workers on the job somewhat past their prime, a greater emphasis needs to be placed on the link between safety and health on the job and employability, he said.

"What we have here is a changing work population that is not only bringing with along with it new risks, but is also putting new groups of workers at greater risk," he said. "Add that to the fact that many work conditions are not improving and are beginning to pose higher physical and mental challenges, and what we see is that it is going to take cooperation and communication between safety professionals to ensure that ideas are being shared, not only between companies, but between nations."

by Melissa Martin

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