Thursday, January 5, 2017

The times keep changing

Read an article today indicating that the proportion of “older workers” in the United States continues to rise. No surprise there: things just aren’t like they used to be. For one, life expectancy is higher and people are living healthier lives. Health insurance and retirement benefits are another big factor in older workers staying on the job. Some just don’t have the financial resources to retire; some just like to work.

Whatever the reason the reality is the number of older workers in the workforce is increasing and will continue to grow in the future. Currently there’s no real agreement on what age defines the “older worker.” However, statistics (Bureau of Labor Statistics) show that in 2010, 19 percent of workers were 55 and older. By 2024 that number is expected to jump to 24.8 percent.

Now if you’re someone responsible for safety at your workplace, this number is significant. Why? Every worker has the right to expect a safe working environment and every employer has a responsibility to provide that safe environment. The challenge is there are elements of a safety program for older workers that are different and need to be considered when you develop your safety strategy.

While older team members bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the workplace, physically they become more vulnerable. For example, studies show that although they don’t experience the frequency of injuries that their younger counterparts do, when they do get injured, the recovery time for older workers is much greater. The injuries are different as well. For example, younger workers are more likely to have head or hand injuries; older workers experience back, shoulder and knee injuries more often. Falls are a major cause of injury at work for any group but slips, trips and fall for workers 65 and older is about twice the rate of workers under 45.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has several recommendations for helping older workers remain safe and healthy. Among them are matching tasks to abilities, managing noise, slip/trip and other physical hazards, invest in training and building worker skills and competencies at all age levels and requiring aging workforce management skills training for supervisors.

Safety programs are not a “one size fits all” proposition. When creating your safety strategy, make sure there’s something in it for everyone.



Posted by MJ Thomas

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