The U.S. population is aging, and so is the American workforce. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of every five American workers today is currently over the age of 55. By 2020, that number will be closer to one in four.
Further, while the overall rate of on-the-job injuries has fallen over the past decade, the rate of injuries to older workers is on the rise. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, injuries requiring time away from work were highest in workers between the ages of 45 and 64 in 2017. Older workers also accounted for the largest number of on-the-job fatalities that year.
The Physical Challenges of Older Workers
Aging brings with it physical changes that may contribute to being injured on the job. These include worsening eyesight and/or hearing, decreased reaction times, more problems with balance, and loss of flexibility and physical strength. Older people may also be more susceptible to the effects of heat and cold, including dehydration and exhaustion.
Additionally, many older workers have chronic medical issues such as arthritis, diabetes and low back pain that can be exacerbated by an injury at work.
Of course, not every older worker experiences these physical challenges. What’s more, aging workers as a whole bring a host of positive attributes to the workplace that make them extremely valuable to their employers. Older workers typically have years if not decades of relevant experience and skills that younger workers don’t possess. They also tend to have a strong work ethic and stable home lives, and are less likely to change jobs than their younger counterparts. They are typically excellent role models and provide free mentoring for younger employees who want to learn.
Still, given the increased incidence of job-related injuries in workers over the age of 55, it behooves employers to take steps to keep them safe. A safer workplace not only benefits everyone on the job, it also helps keep workplace injuries and workers compensation costs down.
A Safety Plan for Older Workers
Keeping workers safe is the duty of every employer, regardless of how young or old their workforce is. And, certainly, most employers do everything possible to ensure that their employees are protected on the job. Nonetheless, many workplace hazards, especially those that can inordinately impact aging workers, still exist. Mitigating these with common sense strategies like eliminating clutter, arranging furniture and electrical equipment in such a way as to keep aisles and walkways clear, and providing personal protective equipment to every worker who needs it is one of the best ways to do this. Employers should also make sure that individual workers are matched to the right job for their level of experience, physical attributes and training.
Strategies that help older workers can be used to keep younger workers safe and healthy as well. Many employers today are beginning to implement basic health initiatives that encourage workers to choose healthy lifestyles, which has been shown to improve job performance and eliminate injuries to some extent. These include:
- Smoking cessation programs
- Nutrition counseling
- Free or subsidized gym memberships
- Free blood pressure measurement
- Paid medical leave
Other measures that can be instituted in any workplace include:
- Flexible work hours and breaks, which have been shown to increase productivity and enhance employee health
- Fewer repetitive tasks. Repetitive stress injuries are common in all age groups, but older workers may be more susceptible due musculoskeletal issues such as arthritis.
- Standing work stations and/or more frequent breaks. Sitting for long periods is extremely unhealthy for people of any age, and even contributes to a higher risk of death.
- Decreased noise levels. Background noise is distracting for any worker and can be particularly disorienting for those who are up in age.
- Adequate lighting. An older worker with even slightly diminished eyesight is more likely to trip and fall if lighting is inadequate.
Additionally, managers and supervisors should be educated and empowered to assess older workers’ needs and make accommodations as need be. Some workers may need to be reclassified or reassigned: For example, a forklift operator whose eyesight is failing is unsafe in that role, but may be retrained and reassigned to a safer job. Although this may be difficult for the worker to accept, the best time to make the change is before, not after, an injury occurs.
The Carmoon Group, Ltd. is a family owned insurance broker headquartered in Hicksville, New York. Through our large nationwide network of insurance associates, we offer a broad range of risk management products to businesses of all types throughout the United States. Our experienced professionals are available every weekday to review your current coverage and answer any questions you may have. Just give us a call to set up an appointment, or reach out online and we’ll get back to you at a convenient time.