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22 January 2008 PR 08/06

Loughborough University research reveals plight of older workers 

Research by Loughborough University has found that more needs to be done to ensure older workers are not forced out of the construction industry.

The study, led by Professor Alistair Gibb from the University’s Department of Civil and Building Engineering, was commissioned by SPARC (Strategic Promotion of Ageing Research Capacity). SPARC brings together researchers, practitioners and policy makers in ageing, and is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). 

Professor Gibb’s study found that older construction workers do want to remain in the industry, but many felt their fitness levels prevented them from continuing in such a physically demanding job.  Those workers who are forced to leave the industry prematurely face personal financial issues, as well as costs which are incurred by the welfare system.  The study also found that the attractions of employing young, cheap immigrant labour far outweigh any desire by the industry to take care of its older workers.

Speaking about the research, Professor Gibb said: “This study has shown us that older workers want to remain in the construction industry, but although their skills and experience are valued by employers, there is often a trade-off between that and their physical fitness.  Unfortunately, in such a competitive industry where workers are generally paid based on what they do rather than hourly, many older workers leave as they can’t keep up.

Researcher Jo Leaviss added: “Where cheap labour is readily available, there seems to be very little incentive for firms to bear the costs of making the workplace less hostile for the older worker.  In order to make a more favourable, safe environment for older workers in the construction industry, intervention is required both at the industry level, and locally by individual employers.”

Professor Gibb believes there are measures that the construction industry can take to improve the working environment to accommodate the needs of older staff.  Easing the physical burden of construction work wherever possible and developing interventions to encourage all workers to follow safe practice are just two examples of ways in which work-related injury and ill-health can be prevented, allowing older workers to remain in the industry for longer.

Professor Gibb will showcase his research later today (Tuesday 22 January) at a workshop organised by TAEN (The Age and Employment Network), Help the Aged and SPARC.  The event will be attended by a wide-range of policy-makers, health specialists, employers and older people’s organisations.

ENDS

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Notes for editors:

  1. A summary of Professor Gibb’s project can be found at http://www.sparc.ac.uk

  2. The workshop jointly organised by SPARC and TAEN showcasing the research will be held today (Tuesday 22 January) from 1pm until 4.35pm at the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining, 1 Carlton House Terrace, London, SW1Y 5DB.

  3. If you would like more information about the workshop, or to book your place, please visit: http://www.sparc.ac.uk/workshops/2007-01-22-health-workplace-design-and-the-older- worker/index.asp .

  4. SPARC (Strategic Promotion of Ageing Research Capacity) brings together researchers, practitioners and policy makers in ageing and is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).  For more information please visit http://www.sparc.ac.uk

  5. TAEN (The Ageing Employment Network) is a charity devoted to promoting an effective job market that serves the needs of people in mid and later life.  It informs and advocates for age management policies to be adopted in employing organisations, by individuals and across the labour market.  For more information, please visit http://www.taen.org.uk  TAEN is supported by Help the Aged.

  6. Help the Aged is the charity fighting to free disadvantaged older people in the UK and overseas from poverty, isolation, neglect and ageism.  It campaigns to raise public awareness of the issues affecting older people and to bring about policy change.  For more information visit http://www.helptheaged.org.uk.

  7. Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for excellence in teaching and research, strong links with industry and unrivalled sporting achievement.

    It is a member of the esteemed 1994 Group – a set of internationally recognised, research intensive universities – and has a reputation for the relevance of its work. Its degree programmes are highly regarded by professional institutions and businesses, and its graduates are consistently targeted by the UK’s top recruiters.

    Loughborough is also the UK’s premier university for sport. It has perhaps the best integrated sports development environment in the world and is home to some of the country’s leading coaches, sports scientists and support staff. It also has the country’s largest concentration of world-class training facilities across a wide range of sports.

    In the 2007 National Student Survey, the University was voted fourth in the UK, with 23 out of 29 of Loughborough’s subject areas being ranked in the top ten for overall satisfaction. Loughborough is also ranked in the top fifteen of UK universities in national league tables. It was named winner of the 2006 and 2007 Times Higher award for the UK’s Best Student Experience and winner of the 2007 award for Outstanding Support for Overseas Students. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, the University has been awarded six Queen's Anniversary Prizes – an achievement bettered by no other university.

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