Enabling an ageing workforce: Using design to innovate the workplace and empower older workers

de Vere, Ian, Dim, Wil and Sheahan, Jacob (2022) Enabling an ageing workforce: Using design to innovate the workplace and empower older workers. Project Report. Safeness by Design, Melbourne.

Enabling an ageing workforce: Using design to innovate the workplace and empower older workers
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EaAW Report - Comp PDF.pdf - Whole Document

Item Type:Paper or Report (Project Report)
Item Status:Live Archive


Australia’s population is ageing, but with enhanced health prospects and insufficient retirement funds, and industries impacted by a dwindling itinerate manual labour supply, workers will want, and may need, to remain in the workforce for longer. However, as people age, they lose muscular strength, experience a decline in physical and cognitive performance, and are more vulnerable to muscular-skeletal issues caused by repetitive or awkward movement patterns. Consequently, ageing workers in occupations that require sustained physical activities are at increased risk of injury and exacerbated physical decline and may experience ageist discrimination in the workplace that impacts their psychological wellbeing.

This research, Enabling an Ageing Workforce, recognises the issues facing the older worker across a range of different workplace contexts and asks the question:
How can design and new technologies address the compounding factors of an ageing (working) population and enable older workers to continue to be productive and effective whilst ensuring their personal wellbeing?

Enabling an Ageing Workforce’ is a collaborative research and design project between RMIT University’s ‘Safeness by Design’ initiative and the Innovation Centre of WorkSafe Victoria. This project investigates ageing, wellbeing, and workplace safeness within specific industries to identify areas of concern, opportunities for design intervention, and the proposal of future-focused design solutions. The researchers conduct a substantial scope of enquiry, while concurrently undertaking a partnered design studio with Industrial Design students, to develop and respond with appropriate design solutions.

The research identifies that safeness issues exist across specific industry contexts because of workplace culture, practices and predominant behaviours, specific work actions and activities, workplace design, economic and time pressures, and poor risk literacy, training and awareness. The design studio component sees students addressing research-identified issues across many industry sectors and workplace contexts to:

• prevent musculoskeletal issues in healthcare workers in the homecare environment,
• correct harmful movement behaviours in manufacturing environments,
• support older workers in manual tasks, through assistive technologies,
• address mental health in the construction industry,
• reduce ladder injuries in the residential construction industry,
• reduce vibration related injuries in the agricultural sector.

This research reveals insights into how a ‘safeness by design’ lens can enable an ageing Australian workforce. Such an approach needs to balance pre-emptive and reactive safety measures, focusing on creating a safe and supportive working environment for all workers.

Whilst it is important to support older workers to reduce risk or injury and to promote their capability and performance, enabling longevity, it is also critical to implement measures that protect younger workers from unsafe workplace behaviours, processes and expectations that can lead to longer-term impairment, and may result in them leaving that industry prematurely.

Keywords:Design education, social innovation, safeness by design, design for ageing 1
Subjects:W Creative Arts and Design > W200 Design studies
W Creative Arts and Design > W240 Industrial/Product Design
Divisions:College of Arts > Lincoln School of Design
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ID Code:53704
Deposited On:01 Jun 2023 13:18

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