By 2020, one in four American workers will be over 55, according the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). To raise awareness of the health and safety issues affecting older workers, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) developed a web page with information to help employers match the needs of an aging workforce (https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/productiveaging/).
According to NIOSH, older workers tend to experience fewer workplace injuries than their younger colleagues, perhaps due to their experience and their lowered likelihood to take risks. However, when older workers are injured the health care costs are higher and the recuperation period is longer. In addition, statistically there has been a dramatic jump in fatalities around age 60.
The following are some of NIOSH’s tips for keeping older workers safe:
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. Consider using self-paced work and splitting physically strenuous work up with self-directed rest breaks.
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 (though you should still assess noise levels and provide hearing protection if necessary), but an older worker in the same environment might have difficulty hearing coworkers to communicate about important safety issues.
Consider Ergonomics: Provide and design work environments that address ergonomic concerns. Examples include better illumination, screens and surfaces with a minimum amount of glare and ergonomic sit/stand workstations. In addition, the use of ergonomically designed tools for high frequency task should also be taken into account.
Invest in Training: It should be a priority to build work 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.
Manage Return to Work Process: Statistics and anecdotal evidence have shown that employees recover more quickly from injury and illness when they’re at work. Proactively managing reasonable accommodations and the return-to-work process, is a win-win situation.
Train Supervisors: Train specifically on the issues associated with an aging workforce and the best way to address them.