Adapting Safety Programs for the Aging Workforce

“The health and safety of the rapidly growing number of older U.S. workers demand employer attention to reduce injury-related losses. . . . Health care costs, workers compensation spending and worker productivity are factors employers must consider as the nation’s population and its workforce age.” 


U.S. workers aged 55 and older numbered about 15 million in 1988, approximately 18% of the nation’s workforce.  That number increased to 28 million in 2008 and is expected to swell to nearly 40 million by 2018, nearly 25% of the workforce, when all of the baby boomers will be 54 or older.


People are working longer for a variety of reasons.  First, adults are living longer and are healthier than previous generations.  Financial considerations are also a significant factor, whether because retirement preparations are inadequate or because of increasing medical costs.  Companies benefit from mature workers’ knowledge and experience.


The physical condition of older employees, such as deterioration caused either by age or chronic disease, can affect how they respond to potential workplace hazards.  While older workers are less likely to suffer workplace injuries, it takes longer for them to return to work if they are injured.  Better lighting, slip-resistant floors and chronic disease management programs benefit workers of all ages, and are well worth the investment.  Job duties may be modified as workers age to reduce overhead lifting or other repetitive motions.  Stretching routines before starting a work shift may reduce injuries and claims.


From Business Insurance, April 9, 2012 issue, pp. 3-4.


Effective steps for reducing accidents, injuries involving older workers:



Screen for vision impairment

Provide adequate levels of light

Consider the size of signs, controls and displays

Use color contrast in signs to help identify potential hazards



Screen for hearing loss

Minimize exposure to loud noise

Minimize background noise


Cognitive Ability

Minimize tasks requiring quick decisions

Reduce distractions and simultaneous demands

Provide opportunities for practice and time to develop task familiarity


Movement Control

Minimize tasks that require quick reactions

Allow additional time to perform manual tasks

Consider good ergonomic design by limiting the number and weight of lifting tasks

Install skid-resistant material for flooring and stair treads


Based on tips from the American Society of Safety Engineers and the National Safety Council.  Quoted from Business Insurance, April 9, 2012 issue, Work Place Safety Poster.