Older Workers Not More Prone to Injury, Says Consultant

Are America's older workers more prone to injury and illness? Definitely not, says consultant Alma Gaither, R.N.

However, Gaither adds, employers should be aware of some special health and safety concerns that affect this rapidly growing segment of America's workforce.

"The number of workers age 45 and older has doubled since 1950," Gaither says. "According to AARP, the number of older persons (55-plus) in the labor force, which stood at about 18.2 million in 2000, is projected to rise to 25.2 million in 2008 and 31.9 million in 2025."

Older workers "have fewer avoidable absences, a lower turnover rate, and fewer work-related accidents," she emphasizes, but adds employers can make the workplace safer for older persons.

"The single largest missing ingredient to assist aging workers in the workplace is light," reveals Gaither. "A 60-year-old person may require two to three times the amount of light as 20-year-old. The amount of light required doubles for each 13 years after the age of 20."

In addition to increasing the overall level of illumination, employers should provide consistent, even light levels. Uneven brightness patterns can produce shadows and/or create the illusion of steps or edges where light and shows meet. Proper design and lighting of stairways will also prevent many accidents.

Older workers may be more disposed toward musculoskeletal problems, such as back injuries, arthritis and osteoporosis, she adds, but employees can take preventative steps, such as maintaining correct posture and exercising. "Muscles support bone and must be exercised," says Gaither. "Age-related muscle loss is not seen to the same extent in older persons who remain active and lift weights."

"Many of the changes related to aging can be prevented, or delayed," Gaither stresses. "Much of what we once thought normal for an aging person is now being disputed. The evidence is strong that taking care of yourself adds years to your life and life to your years."

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