The demographics of our workforce are changing. By 2024, about one quarter of all workers are expected to be 55 or older. How does this affect workplace safety? According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), older workers are less likely to be injured on the job. Research indicates that by middle age, adults start to accumulate more emotional stability and emotional intelligence. NIOSH interprets this to mean that older workers not only know how to avoid certain risks, but are more willing to speak up or point out patterns that could lead to injuries. While injuries remain low for this group of workers, the incident rate of slips, trips and falls for workers 65 and older is about double the rate of workers younger than 45. Additionally, older workers take longer to recover from their injuries, have increased risk of fatalities and take longer to return to their job. As people age, hearing, vision, respiration, muscular flexibility and strength, balance and reaction times gradually decline. These changes can have an adverse impact on safety in the workplace and workers’ compensation costs.
10 Ways to Keep Older Workers Safe
NIOSH provided the following 10 recommendations to help aging workers remain safe and healthy and manage chronic conditions
- Prioritize workplace flexibility. When feasible, give workers a say in their schedule, work conditions, work organization, work location and work tasks.
- Match tasks with abilities of each worker. Incorporate self-paced work, self-directed rest breaks and less repetitive tasks.
- Avoid prolonged sedentary work. Consider sit/stand workstations and walking stations for workers who typically sit all day.
- Manage noise, slip, trip and fall hazards as well as other physical hazards.
- Provide and design ergonomically friendly work stations, tools, floor surfaces. Provide better illumination where needed and screens and surfaces with less glare.
- Use teams and teamwork strategies for aging-associated problem solving.
- Provide health promotion and lifestyle interventions including physical activity, healthy meal options, tobacco cessation assistance, risk factor reduction and screenings and onsite medical care. Accommodate medical self-care in the workplace and time away for health visits.
- Invest in training and building workers skills and competencies at all age levels.
- Proactively manage reasonable accommodations and the return to work process after illness or injury absences.
- Require aging workforce management skills training for supervisors.