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Keeping the Aging Workforce Safe

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It is estimated one in every five American workers is over the age of 65, and in 2020, one in four will be over 55, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Silver Tsunami, as the phenomenon of the older population (aged 55 and older) being in the workforce has been named, will account for more than 25 percent of the U.S. workers by 2022, up from 14 percent in 2002.

This demographic shift has made the issue of workplace safety, especially for those of advanced age, in the forefront of many discussions, prompting safety professionals and researchers to strategize on best practices to accommodate them. The risk of injuries increases with age, and rehabilitation from an injury also increases dramatically. Data from the 2014 Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses showed that among injured construction workers, the median days away from work averaged 20 for 45-54 age group, 21 for workers 55-64 years old and 37 for those 65 and older.

This same survey data showed employees aged 45 to 54 experienced musculoskeletal disorders at a rate of about 40 per 10,000 full-time workers – the highest among all demographics. Older workers were much more likely to experience trunk, back, shoulder and knee injuries than their younger counterparts. Also, the risk of fatal falls across all industries increases with age. While workers aged 20-24 years old accounted for 8.2 percent of fatal falls in 2014, the rate for older groups increases with age:
• 45-54: 16.8 percent
• 55-64: 20.7 percent
• 65 and older: 27.3 percent

Many injuries to the older population lead to disabilities as their bodies take much longer to heal or may never get back to their pre-injury state. Disability plays a big role when working with our aging population. The American Disability Act (ADA) requires employers to offer reasonable accommodations to qualified individuals. For older workers with disabilities, reasonable, and often simple and inexpensive, workplace accommodations can promote job retention, including:
• Accessible parking spaces
• Screen magnification software
• Periodic rest breaks away from the workstation
• Part-time work schedules
• Flexible scheduling due to stamina issues or the effects of medications
• A sit-stand desk
• Time off for medical treatment
• Enhanced health and wellness programs and disability management

With trends showing the continued aging workforce increasing, employers should take initiatives to create more age-friendly workplaces. Need some help putting strategies in place, give us a call at Workplace Safety – 317-253-9737.

Mr. Griffith has a received his bachelors degree in Environmental Health from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. He is a Certified Industrial Hygienist and president of Workplace Safety & Health Company. He has over 35 years of industrial hygiene, safety, loss control and consulting experience. Chemical monitoring, noise measurement, program development and management, risk assessment and computer management of health and safety data are areas of particular strength. Mr. Griffith is a member of the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) at the local and national level. He is also active in the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE).

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