Occupational health and safety policies
National Strategy for Health and Safety at Work (2008-2012)
The National OSH Strategy (which also covers the national labour inspection strategy) mentions that although traditionally the focus of OHS attention has been the prevention of accidents, the economic impact and other negative effects of occupational ill-health must also be addressed. The Strategy demonstrates that there is a serious lack of available data on occupational ill-health and morbidity. Although the Strategy does not spell this out, the lack of available data may be a crucial reason why not enough attention is being given to the linkages between ageing workers who are likely to suffer more from poor standards of OHS due to long term exposure, industrial injuries, occupational diseases and hospitalisation costs, retraining and replacement of such workers as well as lost productivity. The relevance of the Strategy to enhance the situation of older and ageing workers at the workplace may also be seen in the Policy and Legal Review part of the Strategy which calls for the introduction of an OHS risk rating for workplaces. Such a measure is likely to improve the prevention of injury, as well as the rehabilitation of ageing workers after illness or injury at work because the rating would be based on four key dimensions, namely: carrying out an adequate risk assessment, designation of competent person/s to monitor and ensure compliance with OHS at the workplace, participation of employees on matters affecting their occupational health and safety as well as control of risks at source. OHSA Officers would assess the degree of compliance in these key dimensions during the workplace visit, based on objective criteria. Although not specifically stated in the Strategy, it is envisaged that older workers would be singled out as a priority in this risk rating exercise together with other vulnerable groups.
The relevance of the National Strategy to this study is found mainly in Objective 4, which addresses taking appropriate action against existing and emerging risks. This part identifies groups of workers who may themselves be vulnerable by virtue of some other factor – these include: presence of a disability, the extremes of age and the gender of the worker – such factors necessitate different or higher levels of protection. Ageing workers definitely fit in under one or more of these criteria. Occupational Health and Safety Authority Strategy, Work Programme and related initiatives OHSA has developed both a Strategy and a Work Programme. In 2007, the OHSA published a Strategic national plan for occupational health and safety (“Occupational Health and Safety: Consoldating achievements and engaging further commitment, Strategic plan: 2007 to 2012"). The strategy aims to ensure that the OHSA fulfils its responsibilities in the field of occupational health and safety, whilst continuing to instill a sense of responsability and commitment from its social partners. The strategic plan establishes objectives at national level and provides the basic planning for the accomplishment of these objectives.
Recently, in line with its current Stategy and Work Programme, OHSA has prepared a project proposal entitled Ensuring Sustainable Work for Healthier and Longer Working Lives, which aims to promote healthy ageing at work, focusing on health and safety issues that enable and motivate older workers to remain on the labour market for longer. This will be achieved through a specialised campaign raising awareness among relevant stakeholders and assisting companies, including SMEs, to deal with the challenges related to an ageing workforce by developing and providing information and tools. This campaign will assist Governments’ efforts to increase the proportion of older workers remaining in employment, lowering poverty in society and at the same time promoting social inclusion. The campaign aims to promote the highest degree of health and safety in enterprises, particularly among the 55-64 years working cohort, by better informing employers and safety practitioners, who will also be taught how to include the specific requirements of this age-group when carrying out statutory risk assessments.
In its proposal, OHSA is trying to engage a number of stakeholders, including the social partners during the implementation phase of the project. Efforts will be made to encourage social partner representatives to be OHSA’s partners in this project. The project will support companies, their employees and individuals not employed by a company. The following themes will, amongst others, be raised during the various activities of the project:
- Age-sensitive risk assessment conducted by employers;
- Adapting working conditions and work demands to the health status and abilities of older workers such as ergonomics at work and ageing,
- Sector and job specific issues;
Active ageing policies
The National Strategy on Active Ageing, launched in 2013, was developed with a sensitivity to the contextual contours that characterise the Maltese Islands. From the outset, the National Commission’s intention was that of advising which policy changes have the potential to bring about optimal levels of successful, productive and positive ageing. Following public consultation, three themes were seen as the cornerstone of the National Strategic Policy:
- Active participation in the labour market;
- Participation in society; and
- Independent living.
The recommendations in the National Strategic Policy are broad, as they intend to serve as a guide for future policies and set the direction for future implementation, rather than describe specific activities that governments, businesses, communities and other stakeholders could take.
The Strategy on Active Ageing advocates supporting work settings that ensure workers’ lifelong employability, equal access to training, age-appropriate training systems, flexible and individual work designs, age-friendly shift rotas and occupational support from well-informed management. According to this Strategy, guidance services available to older workers tend to be provided in a fragmented and sporadic manner.The Strategy for Active Ageing also identifies a gap in the services available for persons aged above statutory retirement age who wish to return to work or take-up self-employment. Another gap relates to an absence of planned reduction of working hours, rather than an abrupt transition from work to absolute retirement.
The Strategy refers to various reasons for the high inactivity levels amongst older workers. The reasons driving older workers to leave the labour market include a combination of positive and negative factors and, according to the Strategy, include retirement schemes, benefits, caring commitments and good financial assets on the one side and poor health, redundancy and unpleasant working conditions on the other.
The Strategy also refers to the need to provide older workers with opportunities to update and extend both their skills and qualifications to enable and encourage them to continue working. It mentions that older workers face various barriers when participating in skills development, such as negative employer attitudes, discrimination, lack of information about options, financial issues and negative personal attitudes. The National Strategy on Active Ageing also highlights that work-related stress is one of the most common contributors for ageing workers to choose early retirement after illness or disability, rather than rehabilitation.