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Safety and Aging in the Workplace

Julie Copeland

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One of my favorite Twilight Zone episodes featured older Americans in a “Home for theHelp your workers stay safe as they age. Aged” trying to regain their youth by playing a game of Kick the Can. Perhaps you saw this episode recently during the New Year’s Twilight Zone marathon.

Americans are living longer and working longer. Older workers have experience, wisdom and an understanding in many aspects of the business. They are more loyal to their employers. They take work seriously and have a strong work ethic.

There are some negative aspects with aging workers, however. Loss of strength or flexibility, sense of balance, loss of vision, and perhaps a slower thinking process can have an impact on safety in the workplace.

As 76 million Baby Boomers move through their 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, some of these workers may present safety challenges for their employers. Does an aging workforce mean more workers are at risk for illness or injury?

An older workforce may lead to fewer claims because these workers have longevity, are more experienced, and loyal. However, injured older workers tend to have longer, more severe claims, taking longer to heal and requiring more time off work.

The Bureau of Labor (BLS) reported that older workers’ share of all serious injuries… is likely to increase…even though their risk of injury is relatively low (US Department of Labor).

So what can employers do to ensure the health and safety for their older employees? After all, employers have a vested interest in the physical well-being of their workers. Illness and injury costs money with worker absence, disability and other benefits, as well as loss of productivity.

According to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), employer-sponsoredHow will an aging workforce impact your business? health and wellness programs for workers of all ages can enhance health status and performance. Studies show that if workers are healthy and safe, they will be more productive. It’s worth noting that employers could make workplace modifications and/or schedule adjustments to aid older or partially disabled workers. These changes could help keep workers more productive and in the workforce longer.

As reported by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, public health and research agencies should conduct research to better understand the overall burden of occupational injuries and illnesses on older workers, aging-associated risks, and effective prevention strategies. Employers and others should take steps to address specific risks for older workers such as falls (ensuring floor surfaces are clean, dry, well-lit and free from tripping hazards).

As life expectancy continues to increase and workers stay working longer, older workers will need to continue to exercise both mentally and physically to avoid a decline in their abilities. To prevent mental decline, some suggestions include solving puzzles and playing games that require thought and strategy. Physical activity is also recommended.

Maybe Rod Serling’s idea of Kick the Can isn’t so far-fetched after all!

In the years to come, businesses will have to learn how to handle the challenge of an aging workforce -- our need to employee experienced mentors… and the challenge of keeping workers healthier and safer.

At Arbill, employee health and safety is important to us.  Visit Arbill.com or contact your Arbill representative to find out how we can help keep your employees safe and help you build a culture of safety within your organization.

Stay well and have a safe day!

Topics: safety, workplace safety, Fall protection, OSHA, Arbill protect workers

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