The Safety Health magazine recently reported that 25% of all US workers will be 55 years of age or older by 2022. In other words, nearly a quarter of the entire workforce by 2022 will be comprised of aging adults and senior citizens.
The reason why this observation demands more attention is because, as we know, with age comes several physiological changes that affect all organs. It is time for employers to realize this fact, considering an aging workforce will be the norm going forward.
Important Measures to Protect Older Workers
As noted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, employers and organizations need to be aware of the health issues impacting aging workers, including chronic conditions. Hypertension and arthritis affect nearly 50% of the workforce over the age 55. This means the risk of an older worker getting injured while performing their job is much higher than a younger one.
The CDC recommends adjusting tasks to workers’ physical abilities as much as possible to avoid injuries or exacerbation of chronic conditions. The CDC also recommends allowing the workers to be able to self-pace their workload and take breaks whenever they need. Helping workers (all of them, regardless of their age) to avoid sedentary work and repetitive tasks will also contribute to a healthier workplace.
Why Aging Workers are at Higher Risk for Job Injuries
One report published by the Business Insurance states that older workers are injured less often than their younger counterparts due to greater experience. However, the formers’ injuries are usually more serious and take longer to heal.
Older workers may suffer from co-morbidities such as heart disease or diabetes that result in higher medical costs and slower recovery. Let’s take a look at some of the physiological reasons why aging workers are more prone to severe injuries:
Reduced Muscle Strength
For every decade of life after about 25-30 years of age, we lose nearly 4% of our muscle strength. This increased weakness is more pronounced in the lower body regions, such as knees and ankles, making seniors more likely to slip-and-fall. A single slip and fall accident can result in broken bones, traumatic brain injury, or spinal damage.
Loss of Vision and Hearing
The likelihood of experiencing vision and hearing loss increases as we age. These natural changes can make older workers less aware of their surroundings, and thus, more vulnerable to injury. If an aging construction worker can’t hear the warning beep of a vehicle backing up, it can lead to fatal consequences.
And this is just one example. Older employees who work in construction, chemical, oil, gas, steel, or mining industries can experience life-altering injuries while moving heavy loads or maintaining painful positions during their job duties.
How to Prevent Injuries among Older Workers
If you are an employer or a manager, consider implementing the following tips to reduce the number of on-site injuries among your aging workers in particular:
Establish a Wellness Program
Think about creating a walking program or a flex-and-stretch program for your older employees. This can help prevent falls, sprains, and strains by encouraging improved balance, strength, and flexibility.
Alternatively, you can cover all or a part of the cost of gym memberships for employees who are 50 years or older. Some companies have built workout centers complete with swimming pools on-site for employee use. This kind of initiative can greatly reduce the risk of job injuries that occur as a result of repetitive motion.
If your organization doesn’t have a budget for a workout center, consider inviting an instructor to hold classes such as Tai Chi or yoga.
Optimize the Worksite to Prevent Slip-and-Fall Accidents
Make sure the sidewalks and parking lots are well-maintained and clutter-free. Slip-resistant floor treatments should be applied in appropriate areas, especially the reception hall and stairwells. Educate all your employees, especially the older ones, about the hazards of slip-and-fall injuries. Encourage them to wear footwear that has a lot of contact with the ground, such as shoes with a low-wide or flat heel.
Workers who spend any time working outside during the winter, such as maintenance workers or bus drivers, should be advised to wear traction or slip-resistant footwear. The same goes for employees who work in environments that often have greasy or wet floors, such as hospitals or kitchens. Something as simple as using handrails and walking cautiously in slippery or wet conditions can prevent a disastrous fall.
Request Pre-Employment Physical Tests Before Hiring
Your employees must be able to meet the physical requirements of their job roles. To ensure this, ask for pre-employment physicals for new hires so the management is certain the workers are capable of all the tasks their job calls for.
The person performing the testing should have an up-to-date description that includes all of the essential functions. The physician should also review the medical history of the applicant; this may help reveal issues that are not as obvious during the physical exam.
Design the Workplace to be More Worker-Friendly
Conduct ergonomic evaluations in your employees’ work areas – whether they work on a production floor, inside a vehicle, at a desk, or in another environment. Reach out to your workers for suggestions on how their jobs could be made safer or altered to avoid muscle soreness/fatigue.
It’s recommended to do away with manual lifting wherever possible by either providing lifting equipment or changing the layout of the worksite.
Several studies show that healthcare employees frequently experience sprains, strains, and even slipped discs while handling or lifting patients. However, the healthcare industry is not the only that involves lifting heavy objects by the workers.
All Ages Matter
Older workers bring knowledge, expertise, and experience to the table – something many organizations find desirable and will try to retain in the coming years. A little attention and planning can help keep your workers safe as well as productive at any age.
At the end of the day, there is no one-size-fits-all solution that will keep the older generation of workers safe at worksites. But the general strategies shared above will help employers create a safer and age-friendly environment for their aging workers.
Suffered an Injury on the Job? Contact a Workplace Injury Attorney
If you have gotten injured at work, you may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. And if the injury was caused by an outside party, you may be able to file a personal injury claim for damages against the responsible party. The best place to start is to speak with an experienced workplace injury lawyer to discuss your case and review your legal options.