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Seven Ways To Create A Welcoming Workplace For Aging Workers

While many employers have an aging workforce, few are taking steps to prepare for the challenges and risks that come with the changing demographic, according to a Society for Human Resources and Management (SHRM) survey.

OSHA’s current ergonomic inspection plan combines:

  • 2015 Healthcare Initiative (expands on the 2011 Nursing Home National Emphasis Program)
  • Inspection of workplaces in industries with significant number of injuries related to ergonomic hazards
  • Responding to employee complaints

Industries with specific OSHA guidelines include:

  • Shipyards
  • Poultry processing
  • Retail grocery stores
  • Nursing homes
  • Meatpacking plants

What employers should do

The physiological and biological changes that occur with aging can lead to reduced balance and reaction time, visual deficits, less strength, endurance and flexibility, loss of hearing, susceptibility to sprain or strain injuries and soft tissue injuries, and so on. Yet, while it’s important to understand the changes that occur with aging, all older workers are not the same and their limitations should not be pre-judged.

To reap the benefits of the intellectual capital and commitment that is characteristic of older workers and prevent injuries, employers need to make an age-friendly workplace.Tasks should be matched to the abilities of the individual worker and workers should have a say and input into the accommodation. It can be tricky to get older workers to recognize declining abilities, but training supervisors to focus on the whole person, team work strategies to focus on aging-related issues, and an overall supportive work environment are key.

Steps that employers can take:

  1. Identify the workplace conditions that cause MSDs
    • Review and analyze illness and injury records
    • Analyze job duties and work tasks
    • Visit job sites and manage noise, slip/trip and other physical hazards
    • Review OSHA guidelines and industry information
    • Solicit employee input
  2. Determine best approach to minimize risks
    • There are many options, including work station modifications, lift assistance, better lighting, less noise, wellness and stretching programs, restructured job duties, shortening task durations, flexible working hours and so on
  3. Remember that ergonomics requires training
    • Ergonomics is personal – no one size fits all approach. Workers should be evaluated and trained how to use and how to adjust equipment. It’s about designing the work environment to fit the individual worker’s needs
  4. Facilitate early return to work
    • Research from Liberty Mutual showed that training supervisors to facilitate return-to-work and oversee ergonomics improvements resulted in a 27 percent decrease in lost time due to chronic issues
  5. Address and manage comorbidities
    • Be sure the claims adjuster is aware of existing comorbidities
    • Utilize occupational physicians who understand your workplace
  6. Promote a healthy workforce
    • Wellness programs
    • Legally implement Physical Capability Testing Physical Capability Evaluations (PCE™) to measure an individual’s ability to perform a particular job function
  7. Recognize psychosocial risk factors
    • An added set of psychosocial risk factors can come into play with older workers. A declining sense of self-worth, fear of job loss, resistance to job redesign, uneasiness with technological advantages, resentment of younger workers, loss of life companions and inadequate home support are some of the common issues.
    • The perception of the level of support in the work environment and the worker’s sense of value to the workplace are key factors in recovery and retention.

Implementing these seven steps will go a long way to maintaining a successful work environment for older workers.