Age is more than a number

Remember when poodle skirts were all the rage, Neil Armstrong walked on the moon and the milkman actually delivered? Some of your employees might. They’re members of the Baby Boomer generation, and many have decided to stay in the workforce well into their twilight years.

Employment of workers aged 65 and older grew 117 percent between 1994 and 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). By 2022, the BLS predicts workers age 55 and older will make up about one-quarter of the workforce.

If you’re an employer, there is mixed news in America’s aging workforce.

Older worker injury trends

Watch this short video to see how an employee overcame a severe injury and remained a productive member of the workforce.

Older workers offer institutional knowledge, experience and productive work habits, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). NIOSH also notes that older workers tend to respect workplace safety rules. Maybe that’s why they suffer fewer injuries.

In 2014, workers 65 and older experienced the lowest injury and illness rate of any age group, according to BLS data.

Clearly, older workers can be an asset to your team. But if you’re looking to tap into their potential, you need to consider two other statistically grounded truths of the aging process:

  1. When older workers do get injured, they take longer to recover. A BLS study found that the median number of days away from work for all injured workers was eight days. For workers aged 55–64, it was 12 days. For workers aged 65 and older, it was 18 days.
  2. Injury frequency decreases with age, but when older workers do get injured, the results are more likely to be fatal, especially starting at age 60, according to NIOSH.

Productive aging

You can help older workers remain healthy, productive members of your workforce by taking a few simple steps.

nonfatalfatal

Click on the image to see how fatal workplace injuries increase dramatically starting at age 65.

Provide the right tools. If older workers cannot do all of the required tasks, make adjustments. For example, extra lighting and larger computer monitors offset failing vision, and hand trucks and dollies make it easier to lift heavy loads.

Be flexible. Look at your policies and procedures for opportunities to reduce the strain on older workers’ bodies. Flexible schedules, task rotation, stretch breaks and telecommuting can help older workers withstand the rigors of the work day.

Make workstations fit employees. Ergonomics is the science of making the work fit the employee. That is especially important for older workers, who are more susceptible to strains and sprains. For example, sit-stand desks allow workers to change postures during the day, which is a time-tested principle of ergonomics.

Offer a wellness program. Healthy workers suffer fewer injuries, and when they do get injured, they recover sooner. A workplace wellness program fosters healthy lifestyles that help workers avoid injury. Wellness programs also help control chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes and hypertension that could increase claim costs and extend recovery times.

Focus on falls. Older workers suffer fewer injuries than their younger counterparts, with one caveat. The incidence rate of slips, trips and falls for workers 65 and older is about double the rate for workers younger than 45. You can help employees keep their feet on solid ground by teaching them these four tips.

Launch a return-to-work program. The longer an injured worker is away from the job, the less likely they are to return. Texas Mutual encourages employers to launch a return-to-work program that includes reasonable accommodations to ease employees back into the workforce.

More information

For more information about keeping older workers safe and productive, visit NIOSH’s web pages on productive aging and Total Worker Health.

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