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Aging workforce's influence on safety initiatives beneficial

Aging workforce's influence on safety initiatives beneficial

There are many benefits to retaining older workers, and the No. 1 reason can be mentoring. Older employees who have great personalities, strong work ethics and company loyalty can be very significant in training younger employees, especially in safe working strategies.

Older workers often have a more responsible attitude toward safety, and they understand the need to wear all of the safety equipment the company offers its employees. They have learned through personal experience, watching co-workers become injured because they neglected to use their personal protective equipment.

As we age, our muscle strength diminishes but not our job requirements. Older employees continue to reach, bend, lift and carry, but they also have learned to use manual material handling equipment to take the load off of their bodies and transfer weights and forces to the equipment. They no longer view themselves as having “super” powers, as some of the younger employees might, and they can encourage younger colleagues to use all of the devices that make the jobs easier.

Our joints become a little achy because of the natural aging process and also from years of working, but the tasks are not necessarily changed. Employees continue to sit for long hours working on computers or at quality stations, and the older employee can remind the younger ones to get up, take a break and stretch. Everyone benefits.

Older employees have learned how to work smarter not harder and can be used to help transfer this knowledge to the younger workforce.

But they also can use some help preventing their own injuries.

While older workers as a group tend to be more experienced and therefore have fewer accidents and injuries than younger workers, when older workers are injured, their injuries are often more severe, and it usually takes them longer to return to work than younger workers. So they learn—they learn not to make the same mistake again, and they understand how an injury feels.

Evaluating job methodologies and reducing the risk factors will benefit the older as well as the younger workers. Offering more mechanization that assists the employee base will permit workers to stay at the job longer and improve their capabilities while limiting their exposures.

This is important because the U.S. workforce is aging and the percentage of older workers is increasing. Are your jobs and training programs keeping pace with changing needs?

Here are some key safety issues concerning older workers:


If the jobs are designed correctly, employees of any age will be able to perform tasks without risking soft tissue injuries.

* Strains, sprains, and repetitive motion injuries are common among older workers.

* Back injuries and chronic back conditions are of special concern among this age group as well as chronic shoulder conditions.

* Lifting and carrying heavy objects as well as performing other tasks that require a lot of exertion may become harder as muscle strength declines. This may require adjustments in the way older workers approach these tasks.

Slips, trips, and falls

* Falls from the same level account for a significant number of work-related injuries suffered by older workers.

* Falls on stairs and from ladders are another risk common to older workers.

* Falls account for one-third of all injuries sustained by workers aged 65 and over.

* Younger workers might move faster to complete the tasks and ignore the warnings

Vision and hearing

* Both vision and hearing often decline with age, making it harder for older workers to use these senses to protect their safety on the job. Older workers can remind younger workers to wear their appropriate personal protection equipment. And remember office workers who wear bifocals or trifocals need to have their workstations adjusted to meet their visual needs.

* Poor vision could lead to mistakes and accidents.

* An employee who does not hear well might miss critical safety instructions or fail to hear a co-worker's hazard warning.

Cynthia Roth is CEO and founder of Syosset, N.Y.-based Ergonomic Technologies Corp., which specializes in workplace and product assessment to reduce injuries, lower operating costs and increase productivity. She is also chair of the American Society for Safety Engineers' Foundation and has lectured at hundreds of companies and conferences on ergonomics.

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