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Risk Management Bulletin


By January 1, 2008No Comments

Nearly one of four people aged 64 to 75 remain in the workforce — and the number is projected to skyrocket as the Baby Boomers reach retirement age, but want to stay active. The good news: Older workers have a lower injury rate. The bad news: Their injuries tend to be more serious and require more time away from work.

Senior workers have specific safety issues. Their retention is often shorter, they’re more easily distracted (for example, by noise in their environment) have a slower reaction time, declining vision and hearing, and a poorer sense of balance. What’s more, they sometimes deny their deteriorating abilities, which can lead them to try to work beyond their new limits.

These physical limitations lead to specific types of injuries for older workers:

  • Falls caused by poor balance, slowed reaction time, visual problems, or distractions
  • Sprains and strains from loss of strength, endurance, and flexibility
  • Cardiopulmonary overexertion in heat or cold, at heights, using respirators, or in confined spaces
  • Health or disease-related illnesses, such as diabetes, cancer, osteoporosis, coronary artery disease, or hypertension
  • Accumulation injuries after years of doing the same task, e.g., truck drivers who experience loss of hearing in the left ear from road noise with their cab window open

Look for these indicators that your older workers might need accommodations:

  • Physical signs, such as fatigue or tripping
  • Psychological or emotional signs, such as loss of patience or irritability
  • Feedback from supervisors or co-workers on declining performance
  • Numbers and patterns of sick days
  • History of minor injuries or near misses

You can help protect senior workers by

  • Finding ways for them to work smarter, not harder
  • Decrease activities that require exertion, such as in working heat or cold or climbing ladders
  • Adjusting work areas, such as installing better lighting, reducing noise, removing obstacles, and decreasing the need to bend or stoop
  • Redefine standards of productivity
  • Learning your workers’ limitations, perhaps by conducting annual hearing or vision tests

Make sure that safety culture becomes an institutional value. For example, when co-worker feedback indicates that an older worker is having trouble, don’t fire the person. This will discourage honest input from employees who feel responsible for their co-worker’s loss of employment.

Other ways to help keep valuable older employees on the job include:

  • Wellness programs
  • Flexible schedules
  • Extra unpaid vacation
  • More medical leave than the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires
  • Allowing less than full-time work with full-time benefits
  • Offering long weekends after heavy workweeks
  • Giving more positive feedback than to younger workers
  • Setting more specific goals
  • Conducting ageism training for supervisors and co-workers to make them aware of the different working styles across the generations