Capitalize on Strengths, Minimize Risks for Older Workers

Oct. 5, 2009
A recent white paper from PMA Companies of Blue Bell, Pa., studies the positive impact of an aging work force, and examines how employers can capitalize on the strengths of older adults while minimizing high-severity risks.

While the increase in older workers in the American work force could suggest a corresponding decrease in workplace productivity and increase in accident claims, the opposite has proven to be true. Older workers are a benefit to the companies that employ them. The white paper notes, however, that injuries to older adults tend to be of higher severity, so U.S. companies should consider making workplace modifications that prevent injuries.

These conclusions and more were published in a PMA Companies’ recent white paper, “Capitalizing on an Aging Work Force.”

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.

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. However, when older workers do experience injuries, severity can be significant, which is an issue that must be considered by safety professionals.

These findings lead to two conclusions, according to the white paper: one, older workers are a benefit to the company that employs them and, two, it pays to make modifications to work environments to prevent injuries and limit the severity of injuries commonly sustained by older workers.

Key Preventative Measures

The chief risk management concerns that were identified in the paper for older workers are increased falls, increased fatality rates, longer healing times, greater overall severity of injuries and more severe musculoskeletal disorders. The paper recommends that companies consider implementing risk control measures designed for the needs of older workers. Among the specific recommendations are:

  • 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.

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