Loss Control Insights

Tips for Reducing Injuries in Older Workers

aging workforce stats

Have you noticed that you have more employees who choose to continue working as they near, or even pass, typical retirement age? If so, your company is not unusual; according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 25% of the workforce will be 55 and older by 2020.

This can present some risks for your company. As workers age, their sight, hearing and reaction time may decrease, and they are more prone to health issues, such as heart problems and diabetes. Equally troubling, while older workers have fewer on-the-job injuries than younger workers, the injuries they do suffer tend to be more severe with a longer recovery time. And the number of fatal injuries experienced by older workers (55 plus) is 4 times the number of fatalities for workers ages 18–24. These stats may affect the cost of your company healthcare plan and your workers’ compensation insurance premiums. However, while some physical skills tend to diminish with age, older workers have much to offer your company in the form of knowledge and skills.

Managing Safety for Older Workers
Although best practices for workplace safety are the same regardless of the age of your employees, it’s wise to emphasize some aspects with an aging workforce.

1. Hazard Identification (and Remediation)—EMC loss data shows that the No. 1 risk for older workers is same-level falls. Observation and inspection can help you identify potential problems. The EMC Walkway Check app can help you report hazards. Since some older workers experience reduced balance or difficulty negotiating changes in elevation, it’s important to keep walking surfaces clear and safe from dangers that may cause slips and falls. Good lighting and contrast is important so those with aging eyes can see where they are going well enough to perform tasks safely. If your older workers frequently use ladders or work on elevated platforms, double-check the equipment to make sure it’s secure.

2. Ergonomics Improvements—Reviewing lifting practices, repetitive motions and techniques for handling materials and equipment is good practice to protect workers of any age, but it’s especially important if you have older employees with less strength, balance and flexibility. Explore ways to avoid or minimize strenuous exertions, purchase equipment that can make jobs safer and easier, or look into modifying work practices. This might involve raising boxes of frequently accessed materials from the floor to waist height.

A few other ergonomic changes might include:

  • Adding adjustable workstations that move to accommodate the worker’s height
  • Allowing workers to sit rather than stand while performing tasks
  • Switching to a larger computer monitor to reduce eye strain
  • Scheduling more frequent breaks to give workers a chance to recover from repetitive tasks

Find a template for developing or enhancing an ergonomics program on the EMC website in the Safety Management and Culture section, and be sure to review the Workplace Injury Prevention Guide. Another good reference is the EMC 3-part online training program, Ergonomics in the Workplace. Find the programs in the Ergonomics and Back Safety section of the EMC website.

3. Wellness Program Implementation—Offering a wellness program may reduce healthcare costs, disability management and sick leave by as much as 25%. Programs may include:

  • Helping workers identify and manage health problems, such as diabetes or obesity
  • Offering gym access or scheduling preshift stretching and conditioning exercises
  • Scheduling lunch-and-learn sessions taught by dietitians or physical therapists
  • Swapping out vending machine foods with healthier options
  • Having on-site health assessments, including hearing and eye testing

Adapting your company culture so older workers can contribute fully to your organization as they age should result in fewer injuries and safety issues, along with improved productivity. Get assistance from EMC in developing a wellness program that works for your company. Start by reviewing this brief overview that includes 7 steps to success and ideas to get you started. Find more information in the Wellness section of the EMC loss control website.