The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 25% of the workforce will be over 55 in 2020. That’s one in four workers — up from one in every five workers just two years ago. Why? In addition to Boomers, the elimination of mandatory retirement and the enactment of age discrimination laws accounts for some of this trend. Better life expectancy and health is partly responsible. And for most, early retirement is largely a thing of the past. Many workers now choose to or must remain in the workforce longer than they had originally planned.
The good news is that a well-designed workplace with positive policies and programs to optimize the health of aging workers benefits everyone. When work stations and job tasks are matched to the capacity of each worker, younger or older, everyone benefits. When workplace flexibility is maximized, when work is organized with personal health and well-being principles in mind, and when workplace policies consistently are viewed through their health effects on workers, employers and workers both win. This is also a way for employers to exercise excellent foresight to support ongoing organizational health for their companies and indeed for the U.S. economy, as well as the individual worker’s well-being. By preventing stresses or injuries that, over time, can have cumulative negative effects on a worker’s ability to work safely and productively, an employer can help assure that the U.S. continues to have a capable, experienced workforce.
Many effective workplace solutions are simple, don’t have to cost very much, and can have large benefits if implemented properly with worker input and support throughout all levels of management. Below are strategies for preparing your workplace for an older and healthier, safer workforce. Consider putting these in place today.
- Prioritize workplace flexibility. Workers prefer jobs that offer more flexibility over those that offer more vacation days. To the extent possible, give workers a say in their schedule, work conditions, work organization, work location and work tasks.
- Match tasks to abilities. Use self-paced work, self-directed rest breaks and less repetitive tasks
- Avoid prolonged, sedentary work – it’s bad for workers at every age. Consider sit/stand workstations and walking workstations for workers who traditionally sit all day. Provide onsite physical activity opportunities or connections to low-cost community options.
- Manage noise hazards (including excess background noise), slip/trip hazards, and physical hazards, conditions that can challenge an aging workforce more.
- Provide ergo-friendly work environments — workstations, tools, floor surfaces, adjustable seating, better illumination where needed, and screens and surfaces with less glare.
- Utilize teams and teamwork strategies for aging-associated problem solving. Workers closest to the problem are often best equipped to find the fix.
- Provide health promotion and lifestyle interventions including physical activity, healthy meal options, tobacco cessation assistance, risk factor reduction and screenings, coaching, and onsite medical care. Accommodate medical self-care in the workplace and time away for health visits.
- Invest in training and building worker skills and competencies at all age levels. Help older employees adapt to new technologies, often a concern for employers and older workers.
- Proactively manage reasonable accommodations and the return-to-work process after illness or injury absences.
- Require aging workforce management skills training for supervisors. Include a focus on the most effective ways to manage a multi-generational workplace.
via CDC – NIOSH Science Blog – Safer and Healthier at Any Age: Strategies for an Aging Workforce.
Practice safe lifting
- Try not to lift more weight than you’re used to carrying. How much you can handle safely depends in part on your level of conditioning. Technique also makes a difference.
- To help avoid back injury, remember to lift with your legs. Here’s how:
- Bend your knees.
- Keep your back straight, even when you’re putting down the load.
- Hold the load close to your body and use a slow, steady lifting motion.
- Don’t twist while carrying something. Instead, turn your feet and your body in the direction you want to go.
- If you need to move something that’s too heavy for you to lift, ask someone to help you. Or, if you’re authorized to use a forklift or other device, use it to move the object.
via Tips for Staying Healthy and Safe at Work.
Workplace health programs can increase productivity
In general, healthier employees are more productive.
- Healthier employees are less likely to call in sick or use vacation time due to illness
- Companies that support workplace health have a greater percentage of employees at work every day
- Because employee health frequently carries over into better health behavior that impact both the employee and their family (such as nutritious meals cooked at home or increased physical activity with the family), employees may miss less work caring for ill family members as well
- Similarly, workplace health programs can reduce presenteeism — the measurable extent to which health symptoms, conditions, and diseases adversely affect the work productivity of individuals who choose to remain at work
The cost savings of providing a workplace health program can be measured against absenteeism among employees, reduced overtime to cover absent employees, and costs to train replacement employees.
via CDC – Workplace Health – Business Case – Benefits of Health Program – Increase Productivity.
Definition of Lean:
Doing more with less by employing “lean thinking.” Lean manufacturing involves never ending efforts to eliminate or reduce ‘muda” (Japanese for waste or any activity that consumes resources without adding value) in design, manufacturing, distribution, and customer service processes.
So what’s “beyond lean” or the “next lean”. I have found that applying “lean” thinking to employee health and productivity eliminates waste in the cost of health care, work comp, absenteeism and presenteeism (at work but not productive). To be successful you need a process or road map. The process is the five steps of risk management. They are:
- Identify Risk
- Analyze Data
- Control Risk
- Finance Risk
- Measure Results
Don’t make the mistake of thinking insurance is risk management. Insurance is not risk management; in fact it is the 4th step of the process. Skipping (or poor execution of) the first 3 steps leads the waste (higher cost) and poor results in step 5.
Payroll, Benefits and Work Comp are typically the highest cost a business has yet in many cases this area is often overlooked for waste.
A large proportion of the American public goes to work every day in an office environment without considering the ergonomics of the equipment they use. There are large a proportion of people working at a desk without giving due consideration to proper ergonomics as they work with ergonomically incorrect keyboards and mice. Working at a computer on a regular basis can cause the same type of stress on your body as other physical labors and in an effort to prevent such injuries from occurring, companies need to consider the principles of ergonomics.
via Ergonomically Correct Mice and Keyboards: the Many Benefits.
What physical changes occur, in general, as a person ages… and how can this affect their work?
Our bodies change as we age. People reach full physical maturity or development at around the age of 25 years. Then after a period of relative stability, our bodies begin to show signs of aging. Most of these changes are first noticed at ages 40 or 50, but changes can occur (or start) as early as 20 or 25. These changes include:
- Maximum muscular strength and range of joint movement: In general, people lose 15 to 20% of their strength from the ages of 20 to 60.
- Cardiovascular and respiratory systems: The ability of the heart, lungs and circulatory system to carry oxygen decreases. Between the age of 30 and 65, the functional breathing capacity can reduce by 40%.
- Regulation of posture and balance: In general people may find it harder to maintain good posture and balance. When seated or standing still, this may not be a problem. However, accidents that happen because someone loses their balance do happen more often with age.
- Sleep Regulation: As we age, our body is not able to regulate sleep as well as it used to. How long a person sleeps, and how well they sleep, can additionally be disrupted by changing work hours or by light and noise.
- Thermoregulation (Body Temperature): Our bodies are less able to maintain internal temperatures as well as less able to adjust to changes in external temperature or due to physical activity. This change means that older workers may find heat or cold more difficult to deal with than when they were younger.
- Vision: Vision changes with age. We will notice we cannot see or read from certain distances as well as we used to.
- Auditory (Hearing): Hearing also changes. We may not be able to hear as well at higher frequencies (high pitch sounds). Most often, this change is noticed as the inability to listen to a particular voice or sound in a noisy environment.
via Aging Workers : OSH Answers.
Maintaining a healthy office environment requires attention to chemical hazards, equipment and work station design, physical environment (temperature, humidity, light, noise, ventilation, and space), task design, psychological factors (personal interactions, work pace, job control) and sometimes, chemical or other environmental exposures.
A well-designed office allows each employee to work comfortably without needing to over-reach, sit or stand too long, or use awkward postures (correct ergonomic design). Sometimes, equipment or furniture changes are the best solution to allow employees to work comfortably. On other occasions, the equipment may be satisfactory but the task could be redesigned. For example, studies have shown that those working at computers have less discomfort with short, hourly breaks.
Situations in offices that can lead to injury or illness range from physical hazards (such as cords across walkways, leaving low drawers open, objects falling from overhead) to task-related (speed or repetition, duration, job control, etc.), environmental (chemical or biological sources) or design-related hazards (such as nonadjustable furniture or equipment). Job stress that results when the requirements of the job do not match the capabilities or resources of the worker may also result in illness.
via CDC – Office Environment & Worker Safety & Health – NIOSH Workplace Safety and Health Topic.
The impending retirement of RN baby boomers is now a workforce reality that could have a profound impact on U.S. healthcare. The CDC and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health projected that in 2010, middle-aged and older workers would outnumber younger workers. Thus, baby boomer RNs those born between 1948 and 1964 are now in what has been traditionally known as the retirement years. Nurse administrators and educators are challenged with the task of retaining these knowledgeable, skilled nurses while aggressively recruiting generation X and millenial nurses.
via Aging workforce: Retaining valuable nurses : Nursing Management.
Are there any specific health and safety concerns related to aging workers?
A few. Most studies say that older workers tend to have fewer accidents, but when an older worker does get injured, their injuries are often more severe. They also may take longer to get better. Plus, the types of injuries can be different. Younger workers tend to get more eye or hand injuries, while older workers who have been working for many years report more back injuries.
via Aging Workers : OSH Answers.
If you think lean is only for manufacturing, look it up on Wikipedia. You will find that lean principles, lean thinking and lean tools have been adapted and applied to everything from service industries to software development and now are being used to reduce the greatest waste of all: workplace injuries.
via What Can Safety Learn from Lean? | Safety content from EHS Today.