Looking after the health of older workers will keep them in the work force

According to new research by Australian scientists, in order to keep Australia's older workers in the labour force more will have to be done in future to prevent them developing chronic health conditions.

Dr. Deborah Schofield and a team from the Northern Rivers University Department of Rural Health carried out a study to find out which industries and occupational groups are associated with the employment of older workers with chronic work-limiting health conditions in Australia.

The researchers analysed data from the 2005 National Health Survey which involved 4,228 workers aged 45-64 years and found that older workers with chronic conditions are more likely to be employed in certain industries such as the retail trade, and health and community services.

Dr. Schofield says the research revealed that retail trade employees were more likely to develop arthritis, back pain and other musculoskeletal conditions, while workers in the health and community services such as nurses, care givers and midwives, had the highest rates of cardiovascular disease.

But the researchers also discovered that managers and administrators were less likely to suffer from cancers; they suggest this may be because they are less exposed to risk factors or because they can more easily afford to retire when their health deteriorates.

The researchers say the combination of Australia's ageing population, and the predicted chronic workforce shortages, means preventing illness may be an important strategy for increasing future labour force participation.

Dr. Schofield says should chronic conditions in growth industries such as retail trade and health care be work-related, then rates of disease may also increase in the future, but if they are unrelated to work, it may mean that older workers with these conditions can more readily gain employment in these industries.

Dr. Schofield suggests that people with serious health conditions possibly choose to leave industries where their health would be an obstacle to their work, such as tradespersons and labourers.

The researchers say the study confirms that the impact of chronic health problems will be felt hardest in the retail, health and community services sectors, the two industries account for a quarter of Australia's workforce.

The study is published in the Medical Journal of Australia, a publication of the Australian Medical Association.

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