The Department of Labor (DOL) estimates that 44% of today’s workforce is comprised of employees between the ages of 45 and 55, with more than five workers over the age of 55. There is real value for employers in having an older workforce including tapping into workers with greater institutional knowledge and usually more experience than their younger counterparts. At the same time, organizations need to understand how aging affects workers and examine ways to enhance worker safety and maintain productivity. For example, as people age, they begin to lose strength, flexibility, balance, sight, reaction time and speed, hearing, manual dexterity and feedback, and body fat. Aging also leads to a decrease in maximum oxygen intake, rising systemic blood pressure, fatigue and greater susceptibility to extreme temperatures. In addition, as workers age they have different training and learning styles and sometimes tend to experience disenfranchisement and disengagement with their work.
Following are some approaches employers should follow to optimize safety and wellness on the job for an aging workforce:
- Revisit the approach to safety training. Most older workers have gone through a lot of safety training throughout their careers and may not respond to the same format as they did when new on the job. Match tasks to abilities. For instance, perhaps redesign training modules so that they’re both more interactive and focused on issues that relate directly to aging workers. In lieu of videos and lectures, hold hands-on classroom training. During the training, be sure to address high-risk exposures for aging workers, such as preventing falls, musculoskeletal issues and ergonomics-related problems. Also, invest in training and building worker skills at all age levels. Older and younger workers can learn from each other, with older workers serving as mentors and sharing their experience, and younger workers helping older workers adapt to new technologies.
- Match tasks to abilities. Everyone benefits when workers are able to perform their jobs well. If older workers have physical limitations, assign them to tasks that do not require them to strain beyond their ability.
- Manage hazards. When assessing hazards in the workplace, make sure to consider whether conditions that might not be hazardous for younger employees could pose a problem for older workers. For example, a noisy work environment might not bother a 25-year-old employee (though you should still assess noise levels and provide hearing protection if necessary), but an older worker in the same environment might have a hard time hearing coworkers to communicate about important safety issues.
- Consider ergonomics. Provide and design work environments that address ergonomic concerns. Examples include better illumination where needed, screens and surfaces with a minimum amount of glare, ergonomic workstations and tools, and adjustable seating.
- Proactively manage reasonable accommodations and the return-to-work process after injury or illness absences.
- Train supervisors on the issues associated with an aging workforce and the best ways to address them.
The Boomer generation is a valuable demographic for American employers, and as this generation ages, it’s critical for business owners to take steps to help reduce the likelihood of work-related injuries. Take time to evaluate processes, job functions and programs that may impact the safety and wellness of employees.
RPS provides a wide range of diverse industries with Workers Compensation insurance solutions and can assist you with providing coverage for clients as well as in implementing robust safety programs and Return to Work programs.