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Risk Management Bulletin


By August 1, 2011No Comments

Nearly one of four people aged 64 to 75 remain in the workforce — and the number will 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 slower reaction times, 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 working past 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.
  • Cumulative injuries after years of doing the same task, (such as 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 to help them 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
  • Redefining 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.

Our risk management professionals would be happy to advise you on developing a safety management program for your senior workers.