A conceptual framework for OSH risks and challenges for well-being of older employees

Work Ability defines the balanced interplay between occupational demands and the (subjectively perceived) ability of individuals to effectively cope with these demands . The extent of Work Ability depends on several individual and contextual core levels: health and functional capabilities; competence/expertise; values, attitudes and motivation towards work; and job/task characteristics. There is also an additional critical aspect that exceeds the boundaries of the working context but can have a significant effect on Work Ability as it interrelates with personal physical and psychosocial health condition: immediate social environment, including family. The correspondence of this aspect with Work Ability is crucial, as bi-directional spill-over effects from working context to private social life may affect well-being across contexts1.

Figure 1: Work Ability concept (image adapted from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health.)

sustAGE acknowledges the tight relationship between working conditions and general well-being and stands for a holistic approach to safety and health that strives to exploit the interplay of work-related and personal resources for meeting the demands of the workplace. The purpose of sustAGE is to support Occupational Safety & Health (OSH), work ability and overall healthy ageing of older employees and enable a prolonged active participation in the workforce.
To reach this objective, sustAGE pursues the development of a smart, technologically advanced environment for indoor and outdoor contexts at work and beyond that monitors OSH and well-being and provides direct and personalized guidance to the user. The most important component for the interaction between user and sustAGE consists in recommendations that reach workers in an immediate manner and provide guidance and support for actions and decisions that promote OSH and well-being.

Recommendation-based interventions within the context of sustAGE are defined as technology-supported interventions for behavioural and/or structural modification and optimization of work practices and overall well-being. They rely on technical instantiation of sensors (cue), recommendations (routine), and visualizations (reward) in order to consolidate goal-promoting (i.e. OSH and well-being) as well as to modify goal-impeding habitual behaviour, while considering current practices, need for standardization of processes, and person-job fit in the workplace.

Practicable, personalized and acceptable recommendation-based interventions for OSH and well-being need to rely upon information and insights reflecting the OSH and well-being areas and workers’ needs on one side, as well as the characteristics of the specific working contexts of use on the other side. sustAGE has developed a conceptual recommendation framework for the purpose of guiding the generation, selection and implementation of scientifically sound and context-sensitive, personalized recommendation-based interventions. The framework incorporates existing scientific knowledge as well as user-generated data from the sustAGE pilot industrial domains of assembly line work and port operations. In this manner it provides an informed foundation for effective targeted recommendation-based interventions for OSH and well-being that aim at strengthening the available resources of older workers both on the individual as well as on the system (work-related) level.

Figure 2: sustAGE conceptual recommendation framework for OSH and well-being of older employees

OSH risks have their source in the following: overall characteristics and existing hazards of the working setting; ergonomic design and organization of work; the complexity of tasks; and the provided psychosocial support from colleagues and management. Their effective management contributes to overall occupational safety, health and well-being. Aspects of general well-being are defined by the overall physical and mental/emotional health and by the changes that are concomitant with ageing. The two realms mutually influence each other and affect either positively or negatively perceived Work Ability of individuals.

The interrelation of OSH risks and general well-being is also co-determined by factors corresponding with interindividual differences. The interindividual variance depends on the equilibrium of combined demands from the occupational and private realms on one side; and of available personal resources as well as those provided by the occupational and private settings on the other side. A personalized approach for interventions should consider both the more objective thus generalisable OSH risks and challenges from the working setting as well as the individual needs of older workers beyond the narrow scope of chronological age.

The conceptual framework proposed by sustAGE outlines the interrelations between underlying concepts, risks and challenges and the respective interventions which will be proposed to users as personalized recommendations. It guides further efforts towards the development and implementation of a recommendation system that will support management of OSH risks and will increase general well-being for older employees.

  1. J. Ilmarinen and V. Ilmarinen, ‘Aging and work ability’. In: Facing the challenges of a multi-age workforce: A use-inspired approach, New York: Routledge, 2015, pp. 177–207