Accommodating the Older Worker: Implications for Safety Professionals
- Angela Mattis Bernardo (Slippery Rock University) | Rona Smeak (Slippery Rock University) | Adelle M. Williams (Slippery Rock University)
- Document ID
- American Society of Safety Engineers
- Professional Safety
- Publication Date
- October 2020
- Document Type
- Journal Paper
- 26 - 31
- 2020. American Society of Safety Professionals
- 4 in the last 30 days
- 14 since 2007
- Show more detail
The workforce will continue to age into the future. Safety professionals must assess the needs of the workforce to ensure that proper accommodations are made to the safety program to protect not only aging workers but all workers.
Understanding the physiological aspects of aging and how aging affects safety performance can help OSH professionals assess the work environment and adjust safety programs to mitigate some of the impacts of aging.
Many social, economic, safety and medical myths about older workers are based on the perception that older workers are frail, unreliable, and incapable of working effectively and safely. Separating facts from myths is vital to enhance safety performance.
The graying of the baby boom generation and declines in birth rates mean that fewer young people will be entering the workforce. As the demand for workers grows, companies may find that the average age of their employees is climbing. The transition will likely create many cultural shifts, but how many employers recognize the impact that these changes will have on workplace safety? Older workers may have a strong desire to work safely and do a good job, but human physiology may get in their way. The human body’s functioning declines gradually over time, reducing mobility and flexibility. Older workers’ bodies are different from those of their younger counterparts, and the daily stresses of the job affect them in appropriately disparate ways. Most job tasks are not designed with the older worker in mind, and therefore can introduce overexertion and poor mechanics that commonly lead to injury. Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), conditions that are prevalent among every age group, present an even greater risk for long-tenured workers, who experience MSDs at a higher rate than any other age group (Lombardo, 2018). The combination of all of these factors suggests that older workers are more likely to become injured or suffer illnesses in the workplace (Safety Management Group, 2012).
As the workforce continues to age, employers can expect an increase in the numbers of workers with chronic conditions. This includes arthritis, high blood pressure, low back pain, joint problems, obesity and diabetes. All of these factors have a negative impact on worker safety and health and will make OSH more challenging (Rice, 2014).
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