EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Ruoka-Saarioinen Oy, Finland: comprehensive approach


Case study name: 
Ageing workforce
Organisation Size: 
Food beverage and tobacco
Target Groups: 
MenOther non-manualPersons with health problemsSkilled ManualWomen
Initiative Types: 
developmentErgonomics/job designetcFlexible working practicesHealth and well-beingTrainingWage Policy


Organisational background


Ruoka-Saarioinen Oy in Sahalahti is a privately owned Finnish food factory and broiler production plant, which was founded in 1954. The company, one of the Saarioinen Group’s eight subsidiaries, was incorporated in 1992. The parent company’s board of directors and Ruoka-Saarioinen's own board and management group direct the operations of its nine departments.

The company has 762 employees of whom 522 are women and 240 men; 677 blue-collar workers and 85 white-collar. Their average age is 39 years: 102 are aged over 44 years, 102 over 54 years and 29 older than 59 years. Staff turnover is very low and the company has no difficulty in recruiting. The sickness absence rate corresponds to 9% over one year.

The company has invested in projects to help maintain its employees’ work ability and has developed practices for adding extra years to their older (55 years and over) workers’ productive lives. In 2004 and 2005 Ruoka-Saarioinen Oy implemented a programme for workers aged over 54 years, including flexible arrangements for working hours and work content.

A special group representing not only management and employees, including occupational health care, trade union and occupational safety representatives, planned and decided the company’s programmes for well-being and older workers.

The original initiative

Between 1989 and 1995, during a labour shortage, Ruoka-Saarioinen’s workforce decreased by 230 employees. Between 1986 and 1994 early disability pensions cost the company more than three million euro. Therefore, and in order to ensure a continuous flow of skilled workers, the company developed a working capacity programme that aimed to add one to two years to its employees’ working lives.

The company began by analysing the work content of various tasks and any hazards involved. Personal health examinations, on-site physical training, training for changes in work culture and methods, and the establishment of a health promotion group to plan and implement changes were important parts of the programme, which also included a questionnaire on the work environment.

As a result of the programme, the physical work environment improved as follows:

  • ergonomic changes improved work postures;
  • training in small groups improved cooperation among workers;
  • workers' own interests in maintaining their physical capacity increased;
  • both the physical and mental work capacity of workers of all ages improved;
  • sickness absence decreased and work satisfaction improved;
  • workers think that it is important to maintain their ability to work and they are pleased that they are listened to.

The working capacity programme was extensive and effective. Most of its measures seem to be transferable to other companies.

Good practice today

Since the early 1990s Ruoka-Saarioinen has been involved in projects to help maintain its employees’ work ability and has developed measures to extend its older employees’ working lives. The original initiative continues as part of the company's normal routine.

The original measures include regular questionnaires on the work environment, health examinations and support for physical training and a healthful life style. Occupational health professionals, in cooperation with employees and safety representatives, analyse physical working conditions and develop ergonomic improvements and oversee redeployments as necessary and possible. The company also offers opportunities to enhance occupational qualifications. For the last 10 years, employees can obtain a basic degree in food science and prepare for professional examinations. Older workers can go on part-time pension and take part in rehabilitation courses.

In May 2004 the health promotion group started a programme for older workers that will run as a pilot programme until the end of the 2005. This is a voluntary programme for those aged over 54 years who have worked in Ruoka-Saarioinen continuously for at least five years.

It starts with a discussion between each worker and his or her supervisor, which forms the base for the worker’s career plan. They discuss any problems looking at work ability, need to change work content, need for education and rehabilitation and other important aspects of the working environment. The supervisor then prepares a career plan, which sets out the worker’s conditions and benefits, and the production manager and managing director subsequently approve it.

Benefits include opportunities for part-time pensions or part-time disability pensions. Older workers have priority over their younger colleagues in getting temporary leaves, which allow 90–359 days’ leave and a salary of 70% of unemployment benefit. They can also take time off instead of receiving annual holiday pay or benefits for the years in service.

The company tries to ensure that ageing workers with health problems or other special needs do not have to do three-shift work. It also schedules fewer job rotations for older workers and it does not reduce their basic salary even when their work demands are reduced. Finally, it pays all or part of the cost of any physical therapy that is recommended by a company occupational health physician.

This programme and the other practices are designed to support the work ability of the entire workforce, especially of ageing and older workers. Although the company no longer encounters recruitment problems, there might be a labour shortage in the future.

Occupational safety workers, the chief shop steward and the staff manager of Ruoka-Saarioinen Oy supported the idea of the programme for older workers. The safety representatives set it up and the health promotion group implemented it. The health promotion group, in cooperation with different employee groups, makes decisions related to the programme. The company and the pension institutes finance it.

The programme, in design and implementation, applies equally to men and to women. Most workers are female so more women took part in it.

A survey of the working environment shows that employees are, on the whole, satisfied with their work. The company’s early disability pensions and insurance costs are lower than the industry average. Currently about 50% of the workers aged over 54 years take part in the programme for older workers and are very satisfied with it. They think that it is important that their well-being and opinions are taken into consideration. Older workers join the programme almost weekly.

However, its effectiveness, for example, in extending the ability of older employees to work until the age of 63 to 65 years is still unproven. The company plans to evaluate the programme at the end of 2005. It will then modify it, if necessary, and incorporate its measures into the company’s benefits and tailor them to fit Saarioinen’s seven other subsidiaries. The role of the health promotion group will continue to be essential to its success.

Further information

Contact person: Matti Aho (

Organisation's website:


Nygård, C.-H., Arola, H., ‘Evaluation of perceived work ability after interventions in a food factory’, in Ilmarinen, J. and Lehtinen, S. (eds.), Proceedings of the 1st International Symposium on Work Ability: Past, Present and Future of Work Ability. People and Work, Research Reports 65, Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Helsinki, 2004, pp.71–75.

Arola, H., Nygård, C.-H., Manka, M.-L., Huhtala, H., ‘Effects and feasibility of training in adaptation to production changes on health and work ability in a food factory’, Arbete och hälsa, No. 16, 1996, pp.82–88.

Pitkänen, M., Arola, H., Nygård, C.-H., Manka, M.-L., ‘Participative approach in promoting work ability in a food factory’, in Promotion of health through ergonomic working and living conditions, Proceedings of NES 2001 Congress, University of Tampere, Tampere, 2001, pp.112-114.

Nygård, C.-H., Pitkänen, M., Manka, M.-L., Arola, H., ‘Work strain, work ability and health when changing from old to a new slaughter’, Proceedings of the IEA 2000 Congress in San Diego, USA, 2000, pp.13–14.


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