Getting Older, Starting New, Planning for the Future

How finding out I'm classified as an "older" worker caused me to embrace change.

First of all, allow me to welcome you to the first issue of EHS Today. As I typed “Volume 1” and “Issue 1” on the masthead, rather than “Volume 70” and “Issue 11,” which is what it would have been had we not rebranded ourselves as EHS Today, I felt a little thrill. It's not often - as a brand or a person - that we get to reinvent ourselves.

Despite what probably seems like an abrupt changeover to our readers, the rebranding of Occupational Hazards has been talked about since I started at the magazine.

Originally, the thought was that Occupational Hazards had a negative connotation. “Hello Mr. Jones? This is Sandy Smith from Occupational Hazards and I'd like to talk to you about…” Click! (Insert sound of dial tone here.) I might as well have said, “This is Sandy Smith from OSHA and I'm at your front door to discuss our wall-to-wall inspection of your facility. I brought my pillow and a suitcase because I'm staying for a while.”

As time went on, and the practice of environment, health and safety advanced, the need for change became more apparent. Organically, our content began to evolve from a discussion of occupational hazards and traditional safety and industrial hygiene topics toward a dialogue about risk management, environmental management, industrial hygiene, sustainability, employee health and wellness, occupational safety, productivity, corporate responsibility and business continuity and how it all was (or should be) interrelated.

The meetings about rebranding started in earnest over a year ago. We examined and interviewed our readers - many of whom already have EHS in their titles - and their responsibilities. We watched how our largest advertisers were rebranding themselves. We took note of the fact that many of the younger EHS practitioners coming out of universities are generalists, and many of them are as focused on providing value to the business as they are to defining and promoting occupational safety and health. Finally, we acknowledged that we are part of a society that demands immediate gratification, even for news and information. As information providers, the Internet and its delivery of real-time information now is as much a part of our business as paper.

Once we got over our fear of being the “New Coke” of occupational safety, health and environment magazines, we launched EHS Today. When we made the big announcement at a party at the National Safety Congress in Anaheim, I hid in the shadows and fought back nausea. I thought it was because so much was riding on that announcement.

Now I know it was because I'M AN OLDER WORKER!

Cynthia Roth, president and CEO of Ergonomics Technologies Corp., recently informed me that the United States government, through the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, defines an older worker as one over age 40. “OK. Pick yourself up off the floor and dust yourself off,” she advises.

Older workers continue to work and retirees return to work for financial reasons, for socialization and because they want to contribute and feel valued, says Roth. Smart employers, she adds, understand the value of veteran employees - such as their knowledge, experience and work ethic - as well as the problems and risks facing employees as they age.

While many studies indicate older workers experience fewer injuries, their injuries do tend to be more severe and older workers can have longer recovery times.

“It's important to make adjustments to work stations or work methods, tools, equipment and cycle times to make them as safe as possible and keep the work within safe limits,” says Roth, offering advice that works for all employees, not just the ancient ones like me who are over 40.

If a worker no longer is able to perform his or her job tasks, Roth advises creating an alternative career path, providing opportunities for knowledge transfer, providing extended leave arrangements, assisting employees in making informed retirement decisions and engaging older workers in retraining.

“Many of us will continue to work as long as we choose to do so and management will be able to take advantage of all of the experiences, creativity and work ethic of this population,” says Roth.

Amen, sister! Let's hear it for getting older and starting new!

Send an email with your thoughts to [email protected].

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