The labor force in the United States is aging rapidly, with as many as a third of all U.S. workers projected to turn 55 by 2015. By 2025, eight people will turn 65 every minute and the population of individuals 65 and up is expected to double in the next 50 years. Because of the loss of $17.5 trillion in household savings and assets during the Great Recession, many of these seniors will work well beyond standard retirement age.
The aging of the workforce, or “The Gray Shift” as it is called, means that employers will need to accommodate a workforce that has significant impairments in functional capacity as compared with a labor force largely made up of younger workers. Workplace accident lawyers in Galveston know that employers will need to take real steps to ensure that workplaces are reasonably safe for their aging workforce to prevent a significant increase in workplace injuries.
Making the Workplace Safe for Older Workers
Older workers have years of experience and knowledge to share, and employers benefit from improved morale of long-term workers, as well as reduced training costs and increased worker loyalty. However, as a recent article on Manufacturing.net explained, these older workers experience some cognitive and physical changes as they age that affect their abilities. Older workers experience:
- Changes to human skeletal muscle strength. People lose as much as 20 to 30 percent of their strength between the ages of 20 and 60.
- Vision changes.
- A change in cognitive abilities that makes multitasking and learning new skills more challenging.
- Lost flexibility.
- Lost range of motion.
Many older workers are also more prone to high blood pressure, arthritis, obesity and other physical problems that can affect their ability to function in the workplace.
Unfortunately, their physical condition and advanced age means that older workers may be more prone to lifting injuries, over-exertion injuries, sprains, joint dislocation and other musculoskeletal injuries; and repetitive stress injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis caused by years of stress on their bodies. When these injuries occur, employers can find themselves with higher numbers of workers’ compensation claims and with higher incidents of workplace injury.
Employers need to be aware of this risk and must take steps to protect their aging workforce. Readying the workplace for a rising number of older workers can include:
- Developing more ergonomic workplace systems.
- Encouraging older workers to seek regular medical evaluations, including evaluation by vision specialists, to identify and correct health issues that could compromise their safety on the job.
- Adapting light levels in the workplace and providing more light to older workers.
- Placing signage in places where workers can easily see it.
- Providing ample training on safe lifting techniques.
- Providing opportunities for workers to maintain their physical fitness by engaging in exercise.
- Maintaining walkways in good condition and keeping work areas free from debris.
- Allowing older workers to avoid standing for long periods of time and/or providing anti-fatigue mats if prolonged standing is an integral part of the job.
- Providing sufficient space in work stations so older workers can avoid excessive twisting, bending and extreme postures.
Employers cannot, by law, discriminate against older workers or terminate workers because of their age. As such, employers must adapt to changing workforce demographics to keep older workers employed if they wish to remain working and to ensure that these older workers have a safe work environment where the dangers of workplace injury are minimized.