Protecting Baby Boomers

Reining in Injuries Among the Aging Workforce

Employers must take a proactive approach to keep older workers safe and productive on the job.
By: | April 10, 2014

“By 2015, one in every five American workers will be over 65, and in 2020, one in four American workers will be over 55, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics,” said a recent blog post. “Although there is no consensus on the age at which workers are considered ‘older workers,’ the aging workforce phenomenon is real — and global.”

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health includes Healthy Aging at Work as part of its Total Worker Health program, a strategy integrating occupational safety and health protection with health promotion to prevent worker injury and illness and to advance health and well-being. The posting includes a variety of resources and simple strategies for employers to better accommodate older workers.

“Aging affects a variety of health conditions and outcomes, including both chronic health conditions and likelihood of on-the-job injury,” the posting says. “However, the exact nature of these relationships has only recently been better understood, and it is quickly becoming clear that appropriate programs and support in the workplace, community, or at home can help workers live longer, more productive lives.”

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Steps employers can take to make their workplaces age-friendly do not need to be expensive and “can have large benefits if implemented properly with worker input and support throughout all levels of management.” These include:

  • Prioritize workplace flexibility. To the extent possible, give workers a say in their schedule, work conditions, work organization, work location, and work tasks.
  • Match tasks to abilities. Use self-paced work, self-directed rest breaks, and less repetitive tasks.
  • Avoid prolonged, sedentary work, which the agency notes is bad for workers at every age. Consider sit and stand workstations and walking workstations.
  • Provide health promotion and lifestyle interventions, including physical activity, healthy meal options, tobacco cessation assistance, risk factor reduction and screenings, coaching, and on-site medical care. Accommodate medical self-care in the workplace and time away for health visits.
  • Proactively manage reasonable accommodations and the return-to-work process after illness or injury absences.
  • Require aging workforce management skills training for supervisors and include a focus on the most effective ways to manage a multi-generational workplace.
Nancy Grover is the president of NMG Consulting and the Editor of Workers' Compensation Report, a publication of our parent company, LRP Publications. She can be reached at [email protected]

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The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]