An aging workforce's impact

Retaining older employees can be quite beneficial. They have work experience, typically offer higher quality work and are more cautious, all of which contributes to increased workplace productivity.

Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics www.bls.gov indicates that occupational injuries occur at a lower rate to older workers than to younger ones. The frequency of these injuries declines steadily up to age 64 then drops even more sharply for workers age 65 and over.

When older workers do experience injuries, however, the severity can be significant. Therefore, say safety professionals, it is essential to minimize the risk for worker injuries. 

PHYSICAL AGE CHANGES

There are inevitable changes as we age, with the outward physical changes that occur being the most obvious. According to officials at Zurich www.zurich.com - a leading multi-line insurance provider with a global network of subsidiaries and offices, from an employer's standpoint, the major physical concerns are:

  • Strength: 25 to 30 percent decrease at age 65.
  • Flexibility: 18 to 20 percent decrease at age 65.
  • Balance: One-third of those age 65 or older fall each year and sustain injuries. (Research shows that it takes an older worker two to three times longer to recover from an injury than a younger counterpart.)
  • Sight: All aspects deteriorate.
  • Reaction time and speed: Decreases.
  • Hearing: One-third of 65- to 74-year olds have problems.
  • Manual dexterity and tactile feedback: Motor skills deteriorate.
  • Body fat: Increases.

HEALTH AND WELLNESS PROGRAMS

Sponsor health and wellness program for workers of all ages, advise officials with the Virginia Automobile Dealers Association's www.vada.com Group Self Insurance Association (GSIA). Encouraging an environment that supports health/fitness through wellness programs stimulates health education and fosters a healthy lifestyle.

Studies have shown that employer-sponsored health/wellness programs not only improve worker health, but also improve psychological well-being and boost productivity, and that helps improve the bottom line, they note.

SIGNIFICANT HAZARDS

Furthermore, the GSIA officials urge shops to evaluate injury risks and minimize the hazards that can produce losses. The most significant hazards facing aging workers are falls and material handling, research finds.

The officials urge shops to evaluate all walking/working surfaces to identify risk factors and improve physical conditions that may impact injury potential. Lighting, housekeeping, surface applications on floors and stairways, changes in floor elevations, inclement weather controls, and etc., should also be assessed.

Material handling injuries are typically the most costly injuries for employees over age 55, point out the GSIA officials. The top injury types that impact aging workers are rotator cuff sprains, lumbar disc ruptures, carpal tunnel syndrome and knee cartilage injuries.

Much of these injuries can be reduced through good ergonomic controls. Ergonomic evaluations of workstations, work spaces and work processes can identify causes of fatigue and strain for older workers, as well as ways to minimize manual tasks.

Substitution of manual lifting with mechanical devices to move things - such as transmissions, engines, tires and vehicle body parts - will help to reduce the risk of material handling injuries for both your younger and older workers, they add.

So will training programs that address proper lifting techniques, preventing back strains, the importance of taking breaks and simple stretching, say the officials. An investment in the work process will reduce injuries and improve productivity.

Loading