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The Aging Workforce: OHS Solutions


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Research has shown that some physical and mental changes do occur as people age. How do these changes affect people and the jobs they do?

This slide deck is from a free webinar in which Emma Ashurst from CCOHS discusses what has been learned from research studies and demonstrates how specific solutions and practices can prevent these changes from becoming hindrances in the workplace.

This webinar reviews aging from an occupational health and safety perspective and examine different work situations (carrying heavy loads, computer work, visual environment, chemical exposures, etc), explore the possible impact on older workers and discuss solutions on how to keep everyone safe and free of injury.

To watch the recorded webinar go to:

Published in: Health & Medicine, Business
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The Aging Workforce: OHS Solutions

  1. 1. Aging Workers:OHS SolutionsEmma Ashurst, BHScOHS Specialist
  2. 2. 2Aging Workers: OHS SolutionsWhy look at this issue?What are characteristics of aging workers?Is this an OHS issue?What can my workplace do?
  3. 3. How would you definean “aging” or “older”worker?
  4. 4. 4ConsiderationsPhysical performance peaks at 25Peak muscle strength occurs between 20-30Approximately 25% decrease in strength fromage 30 – 65Joint mobility decreases between 20 – 60Incidence of arthritis is highest after 45Manual dexterity decreases with age
  5. 5. 5Why look at this issue?Statistics Canada 2006 census data pertainingto the working-age population is becomingincreasingly older:1 out of every 7 Canadians is over 6512% increase since 2001Number of people between 55 and 64 has increased28% since 2001In contrast, the population 15 to 24 increased by 5%
  6. 6. 6Why keep working?Like it!FinancialWork on their own termsTurn hobbies into contract jobs
  7. 7. 7Is this an OHS Issue?Yes ……and No…A well designed, well organizedworkplace benefits everyone
  8. 8. 8What are some commoncharacteristics of agingworkers?
  9. 9. 9Typical injuries and illnessesFallspoor balance, slower reaction times, visualproblems, lack of concentrationSprain and Strainloss of strength, endurance, flexibilityEffect of accumulation of injuries over theyears
  10. 10. 10Typical injuries and illnesses cont.Cardio-pulmonaryover-exertionloss of heat and cold tolerancecombinations: e.g., use of PPE (respirator)when working at heights or in confined spacesHealth/disease-relateddiabetes, cancer, osteoporosis, coronaryartery disease, hypertension
  11. 11. 11About Injury Types and Rates…Some controversy in literatureMore severe accidents but occur lessfrequentlyLonger recoveryDifferent types of injuries than youngerworkersRepetitive strain related / Back injuries“Accumulation” of time and exposure
  12. 12. 12SolutionsLifting GuidanceNIOSH lifting equation may not apply equallyto 20 yr old vs. 60 year oldLearning StylesOffer appropriate training / educationGood ergonomicsJob designConduct ergonomic analysis
  13. 13. 13Remember…Be aware of possible interactions betweenmedications, diseases, abilities,chemicals, etc.Vibration and blood circulationCompromised blood circulation and carbonmonoxideLung capacity and respiratory protectionCNS depression from solvents andmedications
  14. 14. 14OHS Solutions1. Physical Changes2. Productivity3. Cognitive Skills4. Investment (hiring, retraining)
  15. 15. 15OHS Solutions1. Physical Changesi. Strength and range of movementsii. Posture and balanceiii. Sleep regulationiv. Thermoregulationv. Visionvi. Auditory
  16. 16. 16i) Strength and MotionLose about 15 to 20 % of strengthOlder workers can do the same tasks but theymay be working closer to their “maximum”Loss of flexibility may make “unpredictable”situations more of an issue
  17. 17. 17i) Strength and MotionSolutions include:Mechanical assists for heavy liftingWorkstation designLayoutProper storage height for materialsJob hazard analysisJob design
  18. 18. 18ii) Posture and BalanceMore difficult to maintain good posture andbalanceWork that requires precise adjustments,heavy lifting, or those done on a slippery orunstable surface will be affected moreUnexpected bumps or shocks
  19. 19. 19ii) Posture and BalanceSolutions:Mechanical assists for liftingAppropriate floor surfacesHand rails / gripsEnsure there is enough room betweenmachinery to facilitate repairs, lifts, job tasksGood footwear
  20. 20. 20iii) Sleep RegulationAffects both lengthand qualityDisruptions are morenoticeableMore affected by lightand noise
  21. 21. 21iii) Sleep RegulationSolutions:More time between extended shiftsAwareness of issue & effects of fatigueWork spaces should not be too warm ordimly litOffer good food choicesKeep tasks interesting
  22. 22. 22iv) ThermoregulationLess able to maintain internal temperatureLess able to adjust to changesMay be more affected by heavy manuallabour (overheated more quickly)
  23. 23. 23iv) ThermoregulationSolutions:“Good work practices” for extreme tempsAwareness & educationChange pace / job tasks on hot daysKnow the signs of heat exhaustion, frostbite / hypothermia, etc.
  24. 24. 24v) VisionCertain distancesAlso:peripheral visual field,visual acuity,depth perception,resistance to glare,light transmissionOther changes more obvious when combinedwith poor lighting or glare
  25. 25. 25v) VisionSolutionsReading vs. “Computer” glassesNeed appropriate lightingTask vs. ambientSpeed and accuracyComputer screenFormat and layout of documentsLess flash ads, more bold text
  26. 26. 26v) VisionSolutionsReading vs. “Computer” glassesNeed appropriate lightingTask vs. ambientSpeed and accuracyComputer screenFormat and layout of documentsLess flash ads, more bold text
  27. 27. 27vi) AuditoryUnable to hear higher frequenciesDifficult to pick out one voice or sound in anoisy environmentCan affect how verbal instructions are heard
  28. 28. 28vi) AuditorySolutionsReduce noise, especially background “hums”Written instructionsTelephones with adjustable volumes for ringerand handset/speakerSmaller & round tables for meetingsRegular screening / auditory testingSoundproofing
  29. 29. 292. ProductivityStudies have not shown a consistentrelationship between age and productivityMain reasons for poor performance are:Lack of recognitionHigh job stressLack of supportMay work slower or make decisions “lessquickly” … but work tends to be moreaccurate and decisions more “correct”
  30. 30. 302. ProductivitySolutions:Good work organizationpracticesManagement strategies (e.g,pace of work, stress)Awareness and education
  31. 31. 313. Cognitive SkillsLearn differentlyBased on what they already knowPast experience with training and educationSome studies report that they may learnslower (??) but show no difference inperformance or accuracy once material islearned
  32. 32. 323. Cognitive Skills“Fluid intelligence” declinesinductive reasoning, selective attention, “dualtask activities” and information processing.“Crystallized” intelligence, verbal tasks andvocabulary remains the same or improves.
  33. 33. 333. Cognitive SkillsSolutionsProvide “context” forinformationReduce multi-taskingactivitiesMinimize distractions
  34. 34. 343. Cognitive Skills, con’t.Need for more practice or classroomtraining for new situationsProcedures are short, and written activelyand clearlyGroup equipment or tasks that areassociated with similar functions
  35. 35. 354. InvestmentAging Workers tend to haveLower turnoverEmotional maturityWorkplace loyaltyMay need to approach things differentlyincluding training and job designOlder workers perform just as well, mayjust need additional practice
  36. 36. 364. InvestmentOlder workers bring…Experience and knowledge of an organizationLess need for supervisionA high level of commitment, dedication andenergyOrganizational savvy and an understanding ofworkplace cultureCan be mentors for younger workers
  37. 37. 374. InvestmentValue beyond maturity andexperienceThe ability to mentor otheremployees, which oftenresults in higher retentionand job satisfaction for allconcernedIncreased flexibility to meetbusiness needs, includingpart-time and contract work.
  38. 38. 384. InvestmentSolutions:Flex – time, reduced hoursPart time workPhased-in retirement
  39. 39. 394 Key Actions – Regardless of Age1. Understand the aging process, what isrequired and what can be done2. Appropriate training3. Commitment to preventing accidents andill health4. Assess potential dangers and take actionto prevent them
  40. 40. 40What do you need??Well designed workplaceWorkstation and job tasks that match theworker – regardless of agePlanning process very important as wellas persistent implementation
  41. 41. 41How to get what you need!1. Holistic – address well-being2. Workplace based3. Task based4. Organizational bases
  42. 42. 42Workplace Health ProgramFocus on whole environmentSafety, work organization, personalSuccessful programs work whenintegratedBenefits for all employeesIf there is a need, tailor the programs for specificaudiences
  43. 43. 43Be committed to protecting theentire workforceAssess the health andsafety risks, and getfeedback from theworkersThink about how thetask is done (e.g.,movement andhandling of loads)Match the person tothe job and not thejob to the personAvoid negativelanguage anddiscriminationErgonomic planning islow cost solution withbig benefits
  44. 44. Key is to know theemployee andtheir jobAge is a poor predictor ofability
  45. 45. Any Questions?Thank you!Emma