MYTHS AND FACTS ABOUT THE AGING WORKFORCEMYTH: You cant teach an old dog new tricks.FACT: Older employees may take longer to master something new, butthey will become just as skilled as younger workers once they "get it.“MYTH: Its not cost-effective to spend money training older workers.FACT: Older workers stay on the job after training as long as youngerones. Training for workers of all ages is a sound investment.MYTH: Older workers drive up workers compensation costs.FACT: When injured, older workers recover more slowly than youngerworkers. But younger workers have higher injury rates. These balanceout, with neither causing higher overall costs.MYTH: As they age, workers become less productive.FACT: Older workers boost their productivity by finding "smarter" ways toaccomplish demanding tasks. Even though younger workers are generallyhealthier, they tend to miss more work, which reduces productivity.MYTH: Its too late for older workers to adopt healthy lifestyles.FACT: All workers can benefit from healthy choices like quitting tobacco,managing weight, and participating in wellness programs. NIOSH sayshealth is a result of choices made over a lifetime, which is why itsimportant for people of all ages to take steps to enhance health. Itsnever too late—or too soon—to start making better choices.
With Americans living longer they are also working longer, making older workers an invaluablepart of any company. They bring wisdom, knowledge and experience to many aspects of business.They can become mentors for younger and less experienced workers. However, there are certainchanges that occur to both the body and mind of every individual as they age, which can effectsafety in the workplace if an employer is unaware of them and does not take steps to keep agingworkers safe. Some changes that occur as worker age can include: loss of former strength andmuscular flexibility; range of motion becomes limited; loss of sense of balance; deterioration ofvision; and the mind and thinking processes react more slowly. All these changes can have animpact on safety in the workplace.
MuscularAs muscles lose mass they also lose strength, making them respond more slowly and tire morequickly. To ensure safety on the workplace after the loss of strength and muscular flexibility, olderworkers should practice certain safety measures.• Avoid keeping the muscles in a fixed posture or • Avoid extreme demands on the joints.performing only one kind of movement. • Exercise at least 30 minutes every day to keep fit• Avoid twisting the torso while lifting, as it leads and flexible. Start with ten-minute increments.to back injuries. • Use bright lighting and provide handrails.• Κeep work activity in the “neutral” zone, the area • Use non-slip surfaces on the stair treads.from the thighs to the shoulders. • Use color contrast to identify different raised or• Step up close to the object to be lifted and keep uneven areas.the object close to the body. • Provide good environmental lighting.• Avoid prolonged bending, particularly below • Encourage the use of handrails.knee level. • Encourage slip resistant low-heeled shoes on the• Choose a clear path to the object’s destination. job.• Lift objects from waist level. • Minimize background noises to accommodate• Use a mechanical aid or get help from coworkers hearing problems.if the object is too heavy. • Use sound-absorbing construction material.• Avoid repetitive tasks by incorporating job • Avoid creating locations that have echoes.rotations.• Avoid prolonged standing and prolonged sitting.• If prolonged standing is necessary, provideanti-fatigue mats.
BalanceOlder workers may find they have a problem with balance. Inner ear problems and a tendency to deafness inone ear can also lead to problems with balance. This may be the reason why older people experience more fallsand broken bones. Slips and falls account for 14 percent to 40 percent of non-fatal occupational injuries. Injuriesinvolving falls are more common to older workers. Older workers can take certain safety measures to ensuresafety in the workplace when there may be balance loss.• Perform strength and balance training to • Match work with abilities. Some older workers maintain the sense of balance. are at risk if required to use ladders or scaffolds.• Exercise in a swimming pool to provide a • Practice good housekeeping and keep walkways reduced weight-bearing environment. clear and free of obstructions. This can be especially helpful. • Clean up spills immediately and keep floors and• Avoid marble, polished wood, and tile flooring carpets in good repair. were possible. • Use absorbent materials to reduce slipping.• Wear good fitting footwear with non-slippery • Avoid equipment that obstructs vision, especially soles and preferably lace up shoes. peripheral vision. Employers can apply safety practices in • Use high contrast colors on risers and treads on the workplace to prevent falls and other stairs. significant injuries to older workers and other employees.• Maintain exterior walkways in good condition. Check for uneven surfaces, cracks, accumulation of debris, and weather hazards due to rain, snow, or ice.
CirculatoryCirculatory problems affect people as they age,causing them to feel cold and heat more acutely. Inthe summer time, employers are aware that outsideworkers need more water and rest breaks to cope withheat stress. These precautions especially apply to theolder worker, since age, weight and medications ofteninterfere with body functions that naturally cool thebody. In the winter, employers should protect workersagainst low temperatures, dampness, cold water,and wind conditions. Hazard abatement should be anemployer’s first choice in worker protection, followedby protective equipment for all workers, not simply Respiratorythe older workers. Respiratory functions decline from 15 percent to 25 percent from age 20 to age 65. Oxygen uptake sharply declines after the age of 50, making intense physical activity more difficult for older workers. Older workers should practice safety when performing their duties and other physical activity in the workplace. • Avoid strenuous work in hot/humid or cold environments. • Reduce exposure to temperature extremes. • Take precautions to avoid dehydration in hot environments. Drink plenty of non-caffeinated/non-alcoholic beverages. • Avoid physically demanding work if the worker is not conditioned for such work. • Take frequent breaks. • Allow for self-paced work rather than machine paced work.
VisionVision begins to deteriorate for many people intheir forties sometimes requiring prescription glassesto correct various eye problems. Workers may needprescription safety glasses in their jobs. Employers canprotect older workers with vision problems by makingadjustments in the workplace.• Improve contrast between objects by increasing the candlepower of the existing lighting.• Install brighter lighting in the workplace.• Install glare screens on computers to prevent eyestrain and headaches.• Avoid shades of blue, blue on green or blue on black in the work environment; older workers have difficulty in distinguishing between these colors.• Make signs clear, easily seen and easy to read and follow.• Eliminate the need for older workers to constantlymove between bright areas and shady or dim areas.• Reduce glare by using shades, awnings, diffuse Light sources, adjustable lighting, and indirect lighting.• Encourage workers to get their eyes checked regularly.
MentalCertain mental processes do tend to decline withaging. Studies have shown that the greatest mentalabilities occur in the 30s and 40s and then start tominimally decline in the late 50s and early 60s, butonly to a small extent. Not until after the early 80s do30 percent to 40 percent of people experience a significantdecline in their mental capacity.Mental processing and reaction time does slow withage and older people will take longer to process mentaltasks than their younger coworkers. Given enoughtime, older workers can perform mental tasks just aswell as their younger counterparts. It is important tonote that changes in physical condition and mentalability do not happen to everyone as they age. There isa wide variety in ability among aging individuals andsince functional decline is small it should not interferewith normal day-to-day tasks. Older workers may takelonger to learn new tasks, but they are still capable oflearning new things.
Specific Safety Concerns for Older Workers:* Shorter memory.* More easily distracted, e.g., by environmental noise.* Slower reaction time.* Declining vision and hearing.* Poorer sense of balance.* Denial of decreasing abilities, which can lead to employees trying to work past their new limits.* These physical limitations lead to the following injury types 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 from years of doing the same task, e.g., truck drivers who experience loss of hearing in left ear from road noise with cab window open.* Look for these signs that older workers may need accommodations: -Physical signs, such as fatigue, tripping -Psychological or emotional signs, such as loss of patience, irritability -Feedback from supervisors or co-workers on declining performance -Numbers and patterns of sick days -History of minor injuries or near misses* Use these strategies for protecting older workers: -Find ways to work smarter, not harder. -Decrease exertional activities, such as in heat or cold or climbing ladders. -Adjust work areas, such as installing better lighting, reducing noise, removing obstacles, and decreasing the need to bend or stoop. -Redefine what constitutes "productive."
Most experts agree that despite the aging process and its risks, older workers are not likely to take it easy on the job. Even though older workers face additional obstacles to performing their job, they bring experience and knowledge and an excellent work ethic to the job, making them a valuable part of the work force. Equipment, facilities and work processes can be improved to account for the limitations of the aging workforce and to take advantage of their experience and capabilities. Knowing that there is no one-size- fits-all solution, the following are suggestions that can increase workplace safety for an aging workforce; Implementing these changes would not only help older workers, but would benefit all workers.• Improve illumination, add color contrast.• Ergonomic evaluations of workstations and workspaces can identify causes of fatigue and strain for older workers.• Safe driving – Death rates for work-related roadway crashes increase steadily beginning at around age 55, and older drivers (55 and above) are more likely than other drivers to have a crash at an intersection or when merging or changing lanes on a highway.• Reduce static standing time.• Remove clutter from control panels and computer screens and use large video displays.• Reduce noise levels.• Install skid resistant material for flooring and especially for stair treads – helps reduce falls.• Utilize hands free volume adjustable telephone equipment.• Increase task rotation which will reduce the strain of repetitive motion.• Lower sound system pitches, such as on alarm systems, as they tend to be easier to hear.• Lengthen time requirements between steps in a task.• Increase the time allowed for making decisions.• Consider necessary reaction time when assigning older workers to tasks.• Provide opportunities for practice and time to develop task familiarity.• Eliminate heavy lifts, elevated work from ladders and long reaches.• Design work floors and platforms with smooth and solid decking while still allowing some cushioning.• Install chain actuators for valve hand wheels, damper levers or other similar control devices – this brings the control manipulation to ground level – helps reduce falls.• Install shallow-angle stairways in place of ladders when space permits and where any daily elevated access is needed to complete a task – helps reduce falls.