Safety and the Maturing Workforce

It’s no secret, the U.S. workforce is aging. Today, one in every five American workers is over 65, and in 2020, one in four American workers will be over 55, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The maturing workforce is both a concern and an opportunity for employers. Older workers bring experience and high levels of engagement to the workplace. Highly engaged employees are injured less frequently, use less health care, take fewer sick days, and create stronger customer service relationships (Pitt-Catsouphes and Matz-Costa, 2009).

What We Know
Older workers actually tend to experience fewer workplace injuries than younger workers. This may be because of experience gathered from years in the workplace, or because of factors such as increased caution and awareness of age-related physical limitations. We also know that when an older worker is injured, the worker often requires more recovery time, leading to additional time away from work. According to a 2015 analysis of data from the BLS Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses, “workers in age group 45-54 had the highest number (286,490) of days-away-from-work cases due to occupational illnesses or injuries in 2014… with an incidence rate of 117.2 cases per 10,000 full-time workers.

What We Can Do
In their 2006 work, Hursh, Lui, and Pransky encourage employers to focus on several prevention strategies to help minimize declines in work performance resulting from age-related physical, cognitive or sensory disabilities. The strategies that employers can implement to help keep older workers healthy, safe and engaged include;

  • Ergonomic design for older workers can help to prevent injury;
  • Job analysis can identify specific functions that may increase the risk of injury;
  • Assistive technology devices can increase, maintain, or improve the functional capacity of a worker;
  • Job accommodations involving changes to the work site or work process;
  • Training initiatives to upgrade and maintain skills;
  • Wellness and integrated health promotion such as smoking cessation, exercise, and weight management can lower health care utilization costs and decrease days away from work.

Next Steps
The topic of the maturing workforce and strategies for keeping older workers safe and healthy will be explored through future ALPHA University webinars, training and communications. The following resources are a great way to start self-exploring the issue and research on the topic:

The Center on Aging & Work at Boston College, Click Here

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/NIOSH- National Center for Productive Aging and Work (NCPAW), Click Here

Cornell University, ILR School, Employment and Disability Institute, Click Here



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