Australia: The mature aged workforce - work health and safety questions for the future

Last Updated: 29 September 2014
Article by Melissa Demarco

In brief - Ageing workforce likely to lead employers to make significant adjustments

In light of the ageing workforce, employers may find they have to reassess their recruitment practices, consider what reasonable adjustments could be made to accommodate individual workers, take steps to avoid discrimination claims and offer programs to employees to promote a healthy and safe workplace.

Changes to pension age, superannuation contributions and composition of workforce

Between 2010 and 2050, the number of people aged between 65 and 84 is expected to double and the number of people 85 and older is expected to quadruple, which means Australia's workforce will age radically over the next few years.

These statistics were a significant item on the 2014-15 Australian federal budget agenda, which foreshadowed an increase to the aged pension age, from 65 up to 67 by 2023 and to 70 by 2035. While this does not seem like a significant jump, the addition of other factors will see the needs of the ageing workforce become top of many agendas.

These other factors include the superannuation guarantee contributions proposed at 9.5% as at 1 July 2014 rising up to 12% by 2019 and the inability to access superannuation benefits until age 55, which will be tiered up to age 60 over the next five years.

Paired with the increasing challenges faced by employers with respect to work health and safety, there will indeed be a few hurdles along the way.

Higher life expectancy vs lower health expectancy

On 22 November 2013, the Australian Productivity Commission released a research paper entitled An Ageing Australia: Preparing for the Future, which identified the effects of ageing on economic output and the resulting implications for government budgets, as supported by changes in the three Ps: population, participation and productivity.

Of the many key points made in the Commission paper, the good news is, the mortality rate is lower and people are living longer. However, while death rates may have fallen, the "health expectancy" of individuals who are currently between 50 to 60 years of age is in significant decline.

As a result of this trend, there are currently more people in the workforce with some kind of physical or mental disability or limitation and this will continue to increase as the population ages. Given the expected changes in recruitment practices, mature aged workers will likely be concerned that they will be faced with age and disability discrimination and unemployment aggravated by financial pressures. The outlook is grim.

Duty of employers to ensure health and safety of workers

What does this all mean for employers? Greater importance will need to be placed on health and safety in the workplace, particularly in light of the increased number of workers who are more vulnerable.

The objective of the various pieces of state and federal work health and safety legislation is to protect the health and safety of all workers. All workers are afforded the same protections and as such, the work health and safety legislation does not discriminate based on a worker's age.

The primary focus of work health and safety legislation is the duty owed by a "person conducting a business or undertaking" (PCBU). This duty is aimed at ensuring, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of workers engaged in work for the business or undertaking. As such, mature age workers will receive the same level of protection wherever they perform their work, consistent with the protections provided to all workers.

Employers should take steps to avoid discrimination claims

Just as more attention is placed on how the ageing population will affect government policies and budgets, there is an emergent interest in how a mature aged workforce will influence employers' decision making with respect to recruitment practices, particularly in labour-intensive industries that have higher risks to health and safety, such as the building and construction, mining and petroleum and gas industries.

As a consequence, the longevity and reduced costs associated with employing a younger worker may be given preference over the loyalty and experience of an older worker.

Are employers putting themselves at a greater risk of claims being made against them by older workers by hiring younger, less experienced workers due to growing concerns over, for example, a negligible risk of aggravating a pre-existing injury?

Along with the obligation to protect the health and safety of all workers, the various pieces of state and federal legislation also protect the business or undertaking from any allegations of discrimination based on age or disability. If an individual is not able to perform the inherent requirements of his or her position because of an attribute such as their age or a physical or mental disability, then it will not be unlawful to terminate the person's employment or use this as a reason not to employ that person.

However, before any decisions are made, an employer must first consider whether or not reasonable adjustments could be made that would enable the person to perform the job, without causing the employer unjustifiable financial hardship.

Incentives to employers to employ older workers

In reality, some employers will not have any option but to employ younger workers, given the nature of certain industries and positions.

For those who have a choice, the hidden costs of employing mature employees may outweigh any additional incentives offered to employers, particularly if the health expectancy of the ageing workforce is in decline and the rising cost of health care increases.

The proposed Restart programme (another highlight of the 2014-15 federal budget to incentivise businesses) to employ workers over age 50 appears to be an afterthought by the government to overcome some of the pressures faced by policy makers. However, it may give employers the ability to offer programs to employees to promote a healthy and safe workplace.

Offering employees workplace programs to improve health expectancy

For those employers who want to maintain productivity and a loyal workforce, a proactive approach over the next 5 to 10 years should be taken to improve health expectancy of the ageing workforce. Employers may want to consider introducing incentives to promote a healthy lifestyle, such as:

  • providing flexible working arrangements (rostered days off, flexitime and job sharing)
  • assessing functional capacities and physical job demands as soon as there is a change to technology, duties and equipment
  • making reasonable accommodations or adjustments
  • providing subsidised private health care or gym memberships
  • encouraging innovation
  • offering reimbursement for courses
  • conducting regular risk and worksite assessments
  • providing access to an employee assistance program
  • offering addiction counselling (smoking cessation and weight loss)

Research suggests that creating a healthy culture in the workplace will increase employee productivity and promote long term health benefits and in turn, a safe workplace.

For more information please contact:

Melissa Demarco
Work health and safety
CBP Lawyers

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Melissa Demarco
Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Mondaq Advice Centre (MACs)
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.