Ensure safe work environments for elderly employees

The government and companies need to create safe working environments for elderly people if they want senior citizens to play a long and active role in society’s labor force.

According to a survey by the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry, the number of working people aged 65 and older reached a record 9.09 million in 2021, up 60,000 from the previous year. This means that one out of every four elderly people was working, and one out of every two people aged between 65 and 69 was doing so.

This situation stems from companies’ growing need for elderly workers as a result of the labor shortage.

The revised Law on Stabilization of Employment of Elderly Persons came into effect in April last year. Even before the revision, it was mandatory to ensure employment opportunities up to the age of 65. The revisions require companies to make efforts to allow employees to work until the age of 70.

Letting motivated elderly people work longer is essential for maintaining the vitality of society as the population of working-age people declines due to the chronically low birth rate and the aging population.

Yet it cannot be overlooked that as the number of elderly employees is increasing, work-related accidents involving elderly workers are also becoming more common.

According to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, 38,574 people aged 60 or older were killed or injured in work-related accidents in 2021, an increase of about 30% from 2017.

Work-related accidents involving elderly workers are particularly notable in the manufacturing and retail industries. Incidents include people slipping and falling in the aisles of factories and restaurants, and falling down stairs. Deteriorating eyesight and balance as a result of aging appear to be key causes of these accidents.

Another reason may be that companies are not taking sufficient safety measures. According to the labor ministry, about 20% of establishments with employees aged 60 or older have not implemented safety measures with elderly employees in mind.

Efforts should be made to illuminate work areas more effectively and install handrails on stairs. Using nonslip flooring materials would also be effective.

Many elderly employees at nursing care facilities suffer from back pain due to repeatedly transferring people from beds to wheelchairs. For this reason, some facilities have installed machines to lift people.

Business establishments that employ elderly people must be aware of the need for careful attention to detail regarding such workers. Companies that have already implemented safety measures for elderly workers should listen to such staff and examine whether the current measures are sufficient.

The government needs to support small and midsize companies that take steps to prevent work-related accidents so that the elderly can work with peace of mind.

There have been cases in which elderly people have been involved in accidents because they were doing jobs without being fully aware of the decline in their physical and mental functions. It is important for older workers to choose employment that is appropriate for their physical fitness.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 24, 2022)