Most of us hope for a relaxing retirement after decades of hard work. But the reality is, more people are working longer to make up for failed investments or simply to provide extra time to plan for their next phase in life. So what does an aging workforce mean to businesses trying to keep workers safe? Managers in many industries are re-thinking standard operating procedures as safety for an aging workforce has become an important issue.
While reports indicate that older workers likely take more caution in the workplace, statistics show that when they do get hurt, their injuries are more severe. The CDC reports higher incidents of lost work days and fatalities among injured workers aged 55 and up. Older workers are more likely to trip and fall, and have a higher rate of hip injuries than younger workers.
Nurses working a grueling schedule at the hospital, airport workers hoisting baggage and warehouse workers operating heavy equipment are all at risk of serious injury. When age is added to the equation, the injury can have more severe consequences– particularly when an employee is looking toward retirement and cannot afford to take time off the job.
So how can businesses keep their older workers safe? The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has researched this issue. At least one study has been done to look at the effects of ergonomics and posture in older workers. Poor balance due to unstable surfaces is a major contributor to falls in the workplace. Fatigue, stress and general poor health can make a routine injury more severe.
NIOSH has created a protocol for employers to help improve safety among their aging workforce. The list of strategies includes:
1) Workplace flexibility: give workers a say in their schedule, work location and tasks.
2) Avoid prolonged sitting: Give workers the option to move around, including sit/stand work stations.
3) Match tasks to abilities: Allow workers to set their own pace when possible.
4) Provide well-designed work stations: Reduce the risk of back and neck injuries and falls with slip-resistant flooring and adjustable seating.
5) Inventory all potential hazards: Make every effort to reduce excess noise and physical hazards by surveying the work area and making adjustments.
6) Promote good health: Provide information and coaching on healthy lifestyle choices including eating and exercise habits, stop-smoking challenges, on-site medical examinations and time off for doctor visits when necessary.
7) Employ teams: Workers on-the-job know the hazards better than anyone. Create teams to analyze potential hazards and create a safety plan.
8) Invest in training: Provide opportunities for older workers to continually learn and become more adept at their skill.
9) Accommodate injured workers: Adapt and offer injured workers enough time to heal.
10) Management Training: Require managers to learn about strategies and tactics to keep the aging workforce safe.
See the NIOSH web page for details on the above strategies.