Safe at Home?

An aging work force reinforces the need for off-the-job safety as employee injuries prove hazardous to employers' bottom lines.

In today's work force, employers should be happy to know that they can continue to depend on a mature and experienced pool of employees. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers 55 and older represent the fastest growing segment of the work force, rising to 22.7 million in May of this year. This number is up from 20.7 million in 2002.

Baby Boomers now make up nearly 50 percent of the American work force, and studies show they're here to stay. A survey recently released by AARP showed that nearly half of respondents plan to work into their 70s and almost 20 percent said they would not retire until they were 80 years old or older. Some even reported having no plans to retire at all.

Labor and workplace experts have proven that Boomers in the workplace is a win-win situation for both employees and employers. Corporations benefit from the retention of a valuable, trained segment that brings decades of honed skills, maturity and experience to the job. In turn, Boomers may enjoy the financially sound lifestyle from their current salaries that their retirement plans may not be able to provide, as well as a continued satisfaction that they receive from their ongoing career instead of from an idle lifestyle.

However, as businesses experience the benefits of an older adult work force, it's important for the employer to understand that, although this age group is healthier than ever before, they are not immune to the changes and issues that come with age. Knowing the value that Boomers bring to the workplace, some progressive employers are taking action now and developing age-related solutions within the workplace to protect older adults on the job, such as enhanced technology to magnify computer screens, voice recognition computers to relieve arthritic hands of excessive typing and ergonomically designed equipment to reduce the injuries older adults may sustain at work. But few employers understand where the greatest injury risk lies for this population &endash; not within their workplaces, but within their own homes.

Home Hazards

According to a recent study conducted by the Home Safety Council, unintentional home injuries cause nearly 20,000 deaths and 21 million medical visits on average each year, with the highest rate of unintentional home injuries and injury-related death coming from the older adult population. It's no secret to employers that a healthy employee equals a healthy bottom line, but employers may not realize what home injuries can do to the bottom line. The answer is $38 billion a year.

Employers are spending an average of $280 per employee &endash; equating to $38 billion annually &endash; due to home hazards including falls, fires and burns, poisonings, suffocation and drowning. Health insurance, life insurance, sick leave & disability, hiring and training new employees, not to mention the time-off employees may need to care for a loved one who has sustained a debilitating home injury, all hit employers in the pocket book. The study shows that an injury that results in a hospital stay costs an employer nearly $20,000 while a fatal injury costs them nearly $30,000.

By understanding that one-third of all home injury-related deaths and nearly 2.3 million unintentional home injuries occur among the older adult population, and knowing that this age group makes up nearly half of the U.S. work force, more employers should consider these figures a call to action.

Employer Action

While most businesses already invest in the safety and well-being of their employees at work, there are simple steps to extend these benefits back to the employee's homes and families. Steps employers can take to promote home safety practices among their employees, young and old, can complement workplace safety programs already in place, such as:

  • A home safety section in company newsletters
  • Quarterly safety fairs
  • A home safety agenda item during employee staff meetings
  • Weekly home safety huddles

These and many more creative and effective home safety education efforts will help employers not only increase the safety and wellness of all their workers, but also reduce the financial toll unintentional home injuries can take on the business.

One home safety resource available for employers is the Home Safety Council Web site at www.homesafetycouncil.org. The Web site provides home safety educational tools such as home safety posters to put up in office break rooms, home safety brochures to distribute to staff, a personalized home safety checklist to encourage employees to download and take home, and many more home safety-related items to help keep employees of all ages safe at home.

With skills, experience and wisdom, the aging work force is truly a valued human resource in our society. Arming them with tools to stay safe and keep healthy, not only on the clock but around the clock, may be one of the best employee benefits a business owner can provide and one of the smartest business investments an employer can make.

Meri-K Appy is the president of the Home Safety Council, a veteran of the safety industry and an internationally recognized expert in fire and life safety education.

Resources

The Home Safety Council is a 501(c)(3)nonprofit organization dedicated to helping prevent the more than 21 million medical visits that occur on average each year from unintentional injuries in the home.

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