Capitalizing on an Aging Work Force

April 8, 2009
While an increase in older workers in the American work force could lead some to suspect a corresponding decrease in workplace productivity and an increase in accident claims, a new white paper from PMA Companies shows the opposite is true and examines how employers can capitalize on the strengths of older adults while minimizing high-severity risks.

The white paper, "Capitalizing on an Aging Workforce," concluded that older workers are a benefit to the companies that employ them. Even so, however, injuries to older adults tend to be of higher severity, so U.S. companies should consider making workplace modifications that prevent injuries.

A Growing Population

Authored by Ken Nogan, risk control consultant at PMA Insurance Group, the paper reports that since 1977, the number of people 65 and older in the work force has increased more than 100 percent. In addition, it is estimated that workers in the age groups 65-74 and 75 and up will grow more dramatically than any other work force age group – more than 80 percent. Finally, more than half of older workers are working full-time, up from 44 percent in 1995.

"Not surprisingly, as people age, their skills and faculties, including strength, range of motion, motor skills, sensory acuity and ability to heal, diminish," Nogan wrote. "While this may suggest that older workers would have a negative effect on workplace productivity and safety, statistics prove otherwise."

In fact, the paper notes that as over-55 workers increase in the workplace, so does productivity and overall workplace safety. Safety professionals, however, must consider that when older workers do experience injuries, the severity may be more significant. It therefore pays to make modifications to work environments to prevent injuries and limit the severity of injuries commonly sustained by older workers.

Preventative Measures

The chief risk management concerns identified in the paper for older workers were increased falls, increased fatality rates, longer healing times, greater overall severity of injuries and more severe musculoskeletal disorders. The paper offered several specific recommendations for risk control measures designed for the needs of older workers, including:

  • Slip and fall prevention – Falls alone account for more than one-third of all injuries sustained by workers 65 and older, and it takes an older worker two to three times longer to recover from an injury than a younger counterpart.
  • Ergonomics – Ergonomic evaluations of workstations and workspaces can identify causes of fatigue and strain for older workers.
  • Safe driving – Death rates for work-related roadway crashes increase steadily beginning at around age 55, and older drivers (55 and above) are more likely than other drivers to have a crash at an intersection or when merging or changing lanes on a highway.
  • Return to work – Because claim statistics reflect a connection between increased healing time and age, there is a need for highly responsive return-to-work efforts for older workers.

The paper, which is the first in a quarterly series by the PMA Companies called PMA Insights, can be accessed at http://www.pmagroup.com.

More articles about the aging work force

The Aging Work Force: Brains Over Brawn and Who Is the Older Worker?

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