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October 03, 2013
Your workforce is getting older every day. Are you prepared?

The aging of the baby boomers has led to the graying of the American workforce. In fact, the number of Americans over 65 is expected to double in the next 50 years. This demographic trend is a challenge for employers as well as safety professionals.

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Keep reading to find out what you can do to prepare.

According to Earl Hagman, Ph.D., president of Ergotech Incorporated, two-thirds of workers over 50 have had to postpone retirement due to the recession. As a result, the workforce is aging rapidly, with a third of the U.S. labor force turning 55 by 2015.

Writing for the website Manufacturing.net, Hagman says this demographic shift can be a boon for manufacturing employers but also presents significant risks to workers.

Many of these older employees are working in environments with exposure to hazards, lifting, carrying, and other injury triggers. And even though over-50 Americans are healthier than ever, Hagman says their functional capacity remains compromised. With aging come changes to muscle strength, vision, and cognitive abilities. Loss of range of motion and flexibility may cause difficulties with tasks that require precise movements and dexterity.

In general, older workers have less strength than their younger counterparts, which forces them to operate closer to their maximum strength level. This makes them more prone to sprains, strains, and other musculoskeletal injuries.

What can you do to prevent injuries and save money?

While employers are becoming aware of what Hagman calls the Gray Shift, few companies have taken steps to prepare for it. Those that do take action often wait until after injuries have occurred.

Hagman says you can prevent injuries and save on related expenses by adjusting the environment to fit older workers. Modifications may include more automation and mechanization, the use of product designs that offer ergonomic benefits, and the input of specialists to identify and eliminate hazards.

Consider these tips to keep seasoned workers safe, compiled by the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation:

  • Keep walking surfaces free of water, oil, and ice.
  • Provide handrails on inclines or stairs.
  • Encourage older workers to get a vision exam to identify any problems.
  • Place signage in places easily seen.
  • Minimize sources of background noise as much as possible.
  • Ensure that equipment warning devices are loud, properly working, and recognizable.
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