Occupational Health Issues

Keep Older Workers Healthy

In our last article, we discussed some of the numbers related to workers’ compensation and an apparent incongruence between the declining number of workers’ compensation claims and the increasing costs associated with the claims. While some of the increase can be attributed to inflation of medical costs, it doesn’t account for all of it. There are numerous attributable factors, and one of the most dominant is a workforce that’s getting older. Consider how large an issue the aging workforce is and will continue to be. By 2030, 42 percent of the U.S. population will be 45 or older. By 2020, workers in the 55 to 64 and over 65 age ranges will have increased nearly 40 percent.

These numbers aren’t inconsequential; they’ll impact an employer’s ability to deliver services at a constant pace and quality.

“I’m not as young as I once was,” the old adage says. Consider the many changes that occur as we age. Our vision deteriorates with age, as does our hearing and physical capacities—including strength, agility, and fine motor skills. Fatigue tends to set in quicker, and healing processes are slower. Not depressed yet? As we age, our perceptive-motor capacities and decision-making skills apparently decline as well.

Here’s the good news about seasoned veterans. With all of these things going on, older workers aren’t more injury-prone, don’t miss any more work for “avoidable” reasons than their younger colleagues, have a lower turnover rate, and are safer on the job. Obviously, there’s something to be said for having a few years under one’s belt.

Despite the fact that older workers suffer fewer injuries than their younger co-workers, they do take longer to heal. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average number of days away from work due to non-fatal occupational injuries and illnesses for injuries across all ages of workers was six. In age groups less than 35, days away from work was five days or fewer, while in workers over age 35, the days exceeded seven. Lost work days climbed significantly with the increasing age of the worker.

As you already know, reducing lost workdays is key in managing workers’ compensation costs. As lost workdays climb, so do your costs—exponentially.

What can an employer do to assist an aging workforce? Here are a few thoughts. Remember, these changes would not only help older workers, but would reduce the wear and tear on workers of all ages.

• Reduce heavy lifts, and require assisted lifts for unavoidable heavy lifting.
• Require hearing protection—even if OSHA doesn’t—and reduce noise levels.
• Install skid-resistant anti-fatigue mats to reduce static standing fatigue and slip/fall risks.
• Implement routine task rotation to reduce potential repetitive strain issues.
• Promote—if not require—periodic stretching throughout the workday.
• Improve lighting. IBI