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A safety meeting in a nutshell

IS YOUR COMPANY READY FOR AN AGING WORKFORCE?

Every 7 seconds a baby boomer turns 50. Statistics show the size of the 50+ populations will more than double over the next thirty-five years. And people turning 50 today still have half their adult lives ahead of them. In 2000, only 13% of the workforce as 55 and older. That number will grow to 20% by 2015! And all the while, critical shortages of qualified workers are expected, especially for service technicians.

Between 2001 and 2010, 25-54 year old workers will increase by 5%, but the 55+ category will increase by 45%. So, is your company ready for an aging workforce? These workers tend to be loyal, have strong work ethics, have decreased absenteeism, and decreased turnover. They can be excellent mentors to help build your younger workforce as well.

You may say they’re too slow, too rigid, too sick, too expensive, or inaccurate. They have more falls, they’re weak, have less stamina, and are more prone to injuries. Statistics from numerous studies can prove many of these perceptions wrong. While there may be more back-related and shoulder injuries in the 55+ category, there is little correlation to injuries and age in the others.

The knowledge and expertise that service and parts positions take advantage of they older worker’s experience, too. Adaptations in the workplace may be needed -- like better lighting, less clutter, ergonomic adjustments, or adjustability in computer screen size, print size, or increased contrast. Adaptations in work life-style may be needed as well -- part-time and flex schedules or shared jobs. But making these preparations changes can be an asset to your business -- increasing the safety of your workplace and boosting your bottom line.

Introduction: Older individuals are the fastest-growing age group in the U.S. For the purposes of this discussion, this means individuals 50 years old or older. Due to good health, a desire to remain active or financial circumstances, many individuals in this age group will choose or will need to remain employed. The safety tips below come from a joint study by BWC and the University of Cincinnati, as well as input from BWC safety consultants.

Discussion: Ask the group to discuss the benefits of an older work force? How old is old? Have fun. Discuss the tips in the column to the right with employees and seek suggestions that could make the workplace safer for workers of any age. If you are meeting with managers, discuss the design tips and work on an action plan to implement them.

Reaction time: As people age, reaction time frequently decreases. Therefore, older workers may not react as quickly in a hazardous situation; this may include operating machinery, particularly if they are not familiar with the equipment.

Tips

Balance: Older individuals can suffer from decreased balance due to aging, development of medical conditions or the effect of medications used to treat other conditions. The rate and extent of these changes vary from person to person. With aging, the physiological systems that play a key role in maintaining balance may become impaired (e.g., vision, muscle tone, inner ear and nervous system).

Tips

Respiratory system – breathe easy: Cardiovascular respiratory function, which is associated with maximum exercise levels, declines 15 percent to 25 percent from age 20 to age 65. Oxygen consumption sharply declines after the age of 50, which makes intense physical activity more difficult for older individuals.

Tips

Musculoskeletal system: Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows back injuries are the most common occupational injuries and illnesses, with upper extremity and lower extremity injuries close behind. High repetition and sustained loading associated with prolonged standing and/or walking can harm an aging musculoskeletal system. People feel the effects of skeletal aging mainly in their knees, fingers, hips and spinal column.

Tips

Vision care: Reduced visual perception, particularly near vision, can make it difficult for older workers to perform tasks at a close range. Corrective lenses may improve near vision, but they can also increase glare. Increased glare poses a problem for detecting or reacting to potential harmful events, particularly in dimly lit areas.

Tips

Hearing: We can expect gradual loss of hearing as we age. This loss may be imperceptible, but it does make it more challenging for older workers to discern specific sounds when they are in noisy rooms. Some older workers may have more profound hearing loss, which may place them at risk if they can’t hear warning devices in the workplace.

Tips

Reference

http://www.ohiobwc.com/employer/brochureware/olderworkers/

For more information: Contact the Association office for recommended programs, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration, or your state Workers’ Comp department.

-- from the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation Safety Leaders Guide, 2009