Research

ILO: Older workers most discouraged in Australia

Recent research from the International Labour Association (ILO) has found that Australia and Chile, 13,000 kilometres apart, have one thing in common: discouraged older workers. Australia tops a ranking of 102 countries with the largest share of discouraged jobseekers aged 65 years old and over, according to ILOSTAT data. Just shy of 30% of jobseekers in that age category are discouraged. 

Discouraged jobseekers are defined as people not in the labour force who want to work and are available to do so. They are not classified as unemployed as they are not currently looking for work, because they believe they don’t have the right qualifications or don’t think there are jobs available for them.

These figures are set against a backdrop of an aging global population and, as a result, the average age of the potential labour force is creeping up. With people living longer, many are reassessing their retirement ages, either because they are healthier or because they need to financially. The number of people aged 65 years or over in the world is forecast to balloon by 46 per cent between 2017 and 2030, outnumbering younger people in a huge social transformation. This ILOSTAT data emphasises how their needs in the world of work are growing, as well as their potential to contribute.

The ILOSTAT data shows the proportion of older people among the unemployed is generally smaller than among discouraged jobseekers, underscoring the idea that older people don’t see opportunities emerging. This suggests a reluctance of employers to hire senior or near-senior workers, whether perceived or real. On the positive side, it also reveals a pool of labour with potential to be tapped, as long as skills can be matched with vacancies or updated to suit the jobs of tomorrow.

October 1 was the United Nations International Day of Older Persons, a time of year that focuses on the contributions older people make to society, while also raising awareness of some of the challenges they face. Read more: Older workers are most discouraged in these countries, ILO

Depressive symptoms shorten worklife expectancy

A recent study investigated the impact of depressive symptoms on the worklife expectancy (WLE) of a large sample of Danish employees. This is because while depressive symptoms are associated with sickness absence, work disability and unemployment, little is known about their impact on WLE.

The researchers used occupational health survey data of almost 12,000 Danish employees from 2010 and linked them with register data on salary and transfer payments from 2010 to 2015. Depressive symptoms were self-reported using the Major Depression Inventory. They then used multistate data and a life table approach with Cox proportional hazard modelling to estimate the WLE of employees, expressed by time in work, unemployment and sickness absence. Separate analyses were conducted for sex and employees with a voluntary early retirement pension scheme. Using age as time axis, they used inverse probability weights to account for differences in educational level, sector, body mass index, smoking habits and loss of employment during sickness absence.

Unsurprisingly, they found the WLE of employees reporting depressive symptoms was shorter compared with those not reporting depressive symptoms; that is, the expected time in unemployment and sickness absence was longer, while the expected time in work was shorter. The shorter WLE was most pronounced in women; for example, a 40-year-old woman with depressive symptoms can expect 3.3 years less in work, 0.8 years more in unemployment and 0.7 years more in sickness absence. Employees with a voluntary early retirement pension scheme showed an even lower WLE.
Read more: Pedersen, J et al, Impact of depressive symptoms on worklife expectancy: a longitudinal study on Danish employees [Full article] Occupational and Environmental Medicine Online First

USA: Severe cases of silica disease are being missed

Severe and sometimes even fatal cases of silica dust related diseases are being missed by the authorities, a US study has concluded. Researchers examined reports of severe silicosis in engineered stone fabrication workers over the last two years in four US states - California, Colorado, Texas and Washington. Respirable crystalline silica exposure causes silicosis, a disabling and sometimes fatal lung disease. Clusters of cases have been reported internationally among stone countertop fabrication workers, but only one US case in this industry had been reported previously. However, the US researchers discovered 18 cases of silicosis, including two fatalities, among stone fabrication workers in the four states. Several patients also had autoimmune disease and latent tuberculosis infection. The authors note these figures are likely to be a substantial underestimate.

“Given mounting evidence of silicosis risk among stone fabrication workers, the government of Queensland, Australia, initiated screening in 2018 for all at-risk employees. Ninety-eight cases of silicosis have been identified among 799 workers (12 per cent) examined. These findings suggest that there might be many more US cases that have yet to be identified.” They add: “Silicosis is preventable; the cases reported here highlight the urgent need to identify stone fabrication workers at risk and prevent further excess exposure to silica dust.” Noting the US exposure standard for silica dust was tightened to 0.05mg/m3 in 2016, they conclude: “Effective disease surveillance and regulatory enforcement are crucial to address the emerging silicosis threat in the stone fabrication industry.” Last week the UK union Unite gave its backing to a campaign calling for the UK silica exposure limit to be halved, to match the US limit.
Read more: Rose C, et al. Severe Silicosis in Engineered Stone Fabrication Workers — California, Colorado, Texas, and Washington, 2017–2019. [Full article] Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), volume 68, number 38, pages 813–818, 27 September 2019. Source: Risks 917

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