Yesterday, our ergonomist Allan Brown led a webinar about the much-discussed topic of the aging workforce. (A recording of the one-hour webinar is available to MEMIC policyholders on our website.) This demographic reality enters nearly every conversation about the future of workplace safety and about workers’ compensation insurance.
And it should. After all, what’s the fastest growing age range in the work world? Here’s a hint: it’s not the just-out-of-school, first-real-job set. In fact, workers 65 or older now make up about 17% of the total workforce – up from 11% in 1988.
But what does that mean? Well, as Brown points out, physiological changes mean that as we age from our physical peak (in our 20s!), we suffer reductions in strength, endurance, cardiac output, flexibility, hearing and vision. Depressed? Well, hold on. Older workers offer lots of benefits as well. They have better attendance records, tend to be more flexible with time, have a lower turnover rate and bring their life experience to the job.
In general, older workers suffer fewer on-the-job injuries, though that can vary by industry. And, offsetting that fact, is the truth that older workers who do get injured miss more work when recovering. In fact, an injured worker age 65 or older will miss an average of more than 16 days while a worker aged 45-54 would miss about 8 days.
Older workers are nearly twice as likely to suffer an injury due to a slip, trip or fall than any other category of workplace injury. Almost half of all workplace injuries to workers 65 or older are the result of a slip, trip, or fall.
So, what can an employer do? Well, there’s more in the webinar but here are a few important ideas. First, understand the limitations that come with age. Tasks which require significant strength may not be appropriate for older workers. Significant repetitive tasks (due to reductions in endurance) may require more frequent rotation of jobs, or breaks. Beware of noisy environments in which older workers are unable to hear instructions as clearly. Address slip, trip and fall hazards with good lighting, handrails and keeping walkways clear.
For all of us, the alternative to aging is, well, not generally acceptable. Whether you’re an employer or an employee, consider the realities in the workplace. You can take actions and create systems that allow you to gain advantage of the benefits of experienced workers while significantly reducing the risk.