Editor’s Note: Safety Group Program Monthly Newsletter Article – November 2013
Contact: Amy Statkevicus (303.361.4769, firstname.lastname@example.org)
How to Protect Your Aging Workforce
More people over the age of 55 are participating in the workplace than ever before, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. And the number of older workers is expected to continue its surge as more and more Baby Boomers experience increased life spans and decreased economic certainty.
This is largely good news for employers. Surveys commonly characterize workers over 60 as more experienced, knowledgeable, reliable and loyal than younger employees. A recent study by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College found that today’s workers in their 60s and 70s are better educated than previous generations, and their average productivity meets or exceeds that of their younger cohorts.
But older workers do face certain physical and cognitive challenges. For instance, memory, reaction time and information processing tend to decrease with age. Vision and hearing impairments are more common among older people. Your ability to reach and overall physical strength may also be diminished.
To keep older employees engaged and productive, employers must accommodate their unique needs with redesigned operations and processes.
Provide ergo-friendly work environments. Examine workstations, tools, floor surfaces and seating for any harmful stresses that may affect joints, muscles, nerves, tendons and bones. Avoid prolonged, sedentary activities and reduce repetitive tasks. Consider sit/stand workstations and provide ample opportunities to switch positions, take brief walks and stretch. Discourage an extreme range of motion by providing seating and work surfaces that are adjustable. Make machine controls easier to use by adding a power grip, an additional handle or increasing the frictional characteristics of a device.
Let there be right light. Older workers often need more light. But they are also more sensitive to glare. Improve illumination with several smaller light sources rather than few large sources. Better locations for light might even be more effective than more lighting. Window blinds can help reduce glare while providing more beneficial ambient light. Ensure adequate and evenly distributed lighting to reduce safety hazards.
Make it legible. Computer screens can be made more legible with screen magnifiers or software. Low- and non-glare computer screens are key. Increasing the monitor brightness and contrast can also improve text readability. Place important signs at eye level where they are easier to read for someone with bifocals. When preparing printed materials for employees, consider fonts, colors and letter sizes that enhance readability.
Eliminate unwanted noise. Does your workplace use sound cues for work functions, such as computer signals or warnings on moving equipment? You may need to provide additional visual cues with older workers. Age-related hearing loss can affect the ability to hear high-pitched sounds; select alert tones lower than 3000 Hz. Background noise can become a distraction as well as a safety hazard; reduce it with sound-absorbing material and machine shields.
Prioritize workplace flexibility. Giving additional control over work schedules, work conditions and work location benefits workers of all ages. But older workers in particular may be interested in fewer hours, flexible schedules and additional vacation days. More years in the workforce may also lead to more interest in reassignment opportunities or more creative employment options.
Encourage wellness. Stress can erode workers’ well-being and their ability to do their job. Watch out for signs of workplace stress and find ways to help workers control and manage it. Older workers may feel threatened by younger workers or supervisors, or harbor negative attitudes about aging or their retirement plans. Aging employees will also be increasingly managing multiple chronic ailments. Promote a corporate wellness program to instill a culture of health among employees and reduce overall health-related costs.
Once the changes of aging are understood and small adjustments made to offset their effects, workplaces can become safer, healthier and more productive for all employees, not just older workers. For more information about protecting your aging workforce, call Pinnacol’s Safety on Call hotline at 303.361.4700.