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6 tips for keeping older employees safe at work

Older workers make up less than a quarter of the workforce, but in 2015, workers 55 and older accounted for nearly 35 percent of all fatal workplace accidents.

As we discussed in a previous post, this is happening at a time when overall workplace fatalities are dropping. The workplace fatality rate among those 55 and older is 50 to 65 percent higher than for other workers. What's going on?

It may be that the natural process of aging, along with damage accumulated over time, makes older workers prone to more serious injuries in accidents that would be less serious for a younger person. Or, it may be the case that gradual losses in balance, hearing, response time or other issues make older workers more prone to accidents altogether.

Whatever the reason, the workers themselves are not at fault, and it would be discriminatory to try to "weed out" people who might become seriously injured, simply based on their age or health. The best thing to do is to find ways to reduce the rate of serious injuries and deaths among these workers.

Simple adjustments can keep older workers substantially safer

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has six solid recommendations that can help create a safety-focused work environment for everyone, but especially for workers 55 and older:

  • Create a work environment that allows people to move around rather than sit or perform repetitive tasks all day long. This could include desks that adjust between sitting and standing, or it might mean taking breaks for physical activity.
  • Analyze your work environment for excess noise, slip- or trip-and-fall hazards, and other injury risks.
  • Ensure each employee's work space is ergonomically friendly. This goes beyond desks and offices -- it includes all types of work stations, lighting, flooring and other things that could create physical discomfort or strain. Consider making changes when you observe:
    • Awkward postures
    • Static postures or fixed positions over time
    • Repetitive motion
    • Forceful exertion
    • Pressure points
  • Use teams and teamwork. For example, encourage team lifting of heavy or awkward objects.
  • Provide job flexibility around schedules, locations and tasks in order to reduce stress and rushing.
  • Promote healthy lifestyles and strive to accommodate doctor visits and medical self-care in the workplace.

Older workers make up a growing proportion of the workforce. "That's what's driving the change right now," says the co-director of the Center on Aging & Work at Boston College. "Changes are needed. These workers are staying in their jobs."

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