According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 36% of the US workforce is age 55 and older. While this number has decreased in the past few years from above 40%, more than a third of working Americans fall under the “aging worker” label.
Research from Colorado State University indicates that when aging workers suffer workplace injuries, there are higher injury-related costs, compared to younger workers. Additionally, injuries to aging workers result in longer recovery times meaning more time away from the job.
With such a large percentage of workers falling into the “aging worker” category, proactively implementing an injury prevention program designed with targeted, risk-reduction strategies is a key component to keeping older workers safe, healthy, and well at work.
Understanding the Physical Changes as Workers Age
It’s not a secret, that as humans age, their bodies go through similar health-related changes. While these changes affect every person differently, research has shown them to be consistent trends.
Those changes can include:
- Decreased muscle strength and flexibility
- Reduced ability to balance
- Lowered fitness levels
- Declined eyesight/hearing capabilities
- Reduced ability to process information
- Obesity and risk for disabilities, heart disease, and cancer
Strategies to Reduce Injury-Risk to Aging Workers
When developing an injury prevention program for aging workers, there are several components to consider. Working with a certified injury prevention specialist can help you determine which of the below strategies should be incorporated into your aging workers' daily routine.
- Preparing the body for work
Allotting time at the beginning of the day for a warm-up and stretch has been shown to reduce the physical strain on a worker’s muscles, ligaments, and joints.
- Incorporate Ergonomic Tools
Evaluating work tasks for ergonomic risk, and then implementing necessary ergonomic tools can help your workers perform their tasks safely
- Stress Reduction Education
Stress has a major impact not only on the mental health of workers but also takes a toll on physical health. Teaching stress management techniques such as breathing, meditation, and exercise greatly reduces the impacts of stress hormones.
- Job Rotation
When workers vary their physical and mental tasks regularly, it reduces the risk of suffering a repetitive motion injury along with keeping the mind sharp.
Tips for Healthy Aging
Staying healthy as you age is especially important as it not only reduces the risk of suffering an injury at work but also helps prevent chronic health conditions. Employers can help their aging workers by encouraging healthy behaviors outside of the workplace, such as:
- Aim to get 30 minutes of moderate physical activity at least 5 days per week
- Eat a healthy diet, low in sugar and unhealthy fats
- Get 7 to 9 hours of quality sleep per night
- Get annual physical, eye, and hearing exams
- Challenge the mind with reading, word games, or a new hobby to keep it sharp.
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