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09/02/2017

Addressing the challenges of an ageing workforce - the picture across Europe

All European countries face challenges with ageing and a shrinking workforce, however their demographic situations differ. A variety of policies, programmes and initiatives in each country aimed at addressing these challenges, including in some cases occupational safety and health (OSH) issues, have been developed. Do you know what approach your country takes and why?

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An EU-OSHA commissioned analysis report on the development of policies, strategies and programmes in Europe identified four clusters of countries. The groupings are based on a number of criteria such as the scope and orientation of policies, the level of integration and coordination across policy areas, and the effectiveness of implementation.

Countries in each group share similar policy priorities, even if they differ in terms of their economic and demographic situations. For countries in group 1, workforce ageing and the related challenges have not been policy priorities for different reasons. Greece for example is dealing with high unemployment, while Iceland has a relatively young population.

Group 2 countries have taken more policy measures, despite many also suffering from high unemployment. All 15 countries in this group have focused on increasing older workers’ labour market participation through pension reforms and active labour market measures.  They also address working conditions and OSH with specific training, lifelong learning and rehabilitation.

Countries in group 3 have relatively old populations which has resulted in workforce ageing becoming a priority. These countries have initiatives in several policy areas covering employment, public health, education and OSH. They have developed comprehensive measures to promote the employability of older workers and address working conditions and safety and health at work in a holistic way, including through the promotion of vocational rehabilitation and return-to-work.

Workforce ageing in group 4 countries started relatively early, so this has been a policy priority for longer. Pension reforms in these countries were complemented by the development of ageing policies that acknowledged the link between good-quality working conditions and productivity and competitiveness. Policies have also addressed working conditions in order to extend working life in a sustainable way.

Population and workforce ageing is a cross-policy issue and the challenges can be addressed in an efficient way by integrating the concept of active ageing into all relevant policy areas such as education, public health, OSH, etc. And all relevant, interested parties should be involved in the development and implementation of policies. This means involving partners such as labour inspectors, local governments, OSH external advisory services and non-governmental organisations. Having formal structures in place to coordinate the different parties facilitates collaboration and the efficient implementation of the policies.

EU legislation can also have a positive influence on the development of national policies. For example, OSH and anti-discrimination frameworks have led to the introduction of minimum standards for health and safety, and equal treatment at work.

In the analysis report it is clearly reflected that a number of countries in Europe still have limited policy frameworks to address the challenges of an ageing workforce so continued efforts are needed, especially in light of the economic crisis, the impact of which is still being felt.

Find out more about the country groups and policy developments by consulting EU-OSHA’s visualisation tool. And don’t forget to visit the Healthy Workplaces for All Ages campaign website to keep up-to-date with the latest news and events. You can follow us on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, using the hashtag #EUhealthyworkplaces. You can also subscribe to our campaign newsletter.

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